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CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 6/11/2024 

staff

Staff Reports Available
George Weiss: Staff Reports on City Council proceedings are always readily available. To read the Staff Reports on any of the items below, go to: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2383

Summary

In this Recap we cover Bids for the Potential Utility Undergrounding Along Country Club Drive near the Ranch; Park Avenue Bicycle Lane Improvements; the 2024 Survey Results from 400 residents on Laguna’s services and potential tax or fee changes; and, the Lang Park Pickleball Courts.

                                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 One of the many music groups who performed in Downtown 


Fête de la Musique Laguna Beach

2024 was celebrated with a vast array of musicians performing Saturday, June 15, at Main Beach, Forest and Ocean Avenue.  Thanks to the hardworking Sister Cities volunteers and particularly Karyn Phillipsen, Betsy Jenkins, and Ken Aubuchon for arranging the festivities and finding so many musicians to entertain us with music and dance.  A big thank you to each music group and singer who freely shared their joyful music to launch the start of summer.

 

Notable Items from Public Comments

Gail Onodora — Announced that October 5th is the date for the annual “Love Laguna” event, a Citywide volunteer day. See url for more info: https://lovelagunabeach.org/
 

Christopher Yelich —  of  N. Laguna Beach, who recently remodeled his home, complemented City Staff for their help in getting his project approved and thanked the city council for hiring Dave Kiff as City Manager (CM). 

 

Laura Parisi — City Treasurer, reported that the April investment report is up on the City website, and requested a footnote be added to the analysis with a disclaimer for some information that does not comply with Global Investment performance standards. 

 

Gregg Viviani —  praised S. Laguna lifeguards for the rescue of a visitor who went over the falls at Aliso Beach. He decried the design of the new fire pits which he says allows the ash and debris to fall through the bottom and onto the beach, creating pollution of the beach and ocean. 

 

Michele Monda — thanked Sgt. Downey of LBPD for his help in getting the overgrown vegetation removed on 8th Street where people were parking illegally and blocking views for drivers travelling from 8th to PCH. She read off a list of cities that allow Zoom for City Council meetings and asked that LB City Council consider restoring the use of Zoom. 

 

Ann Christoph — said Ruby’s Diner in S. Laguna illegally removed trees in 2017 and to this day these trees have not been replaced. She spoke on behalf of restoring the use of Zoom as well.
 

CONSENT CALENDAR:

(Items pulled for discussion by a Council member)
 

Item # 7 – Amendments to refine affordable housing and land use plans to the General Plan while waiting for Coastal Commission Decisions; and, art in public places.   Passed 5-0

(Pulled by Councilmember Bob Whalen)

 

Background:  The City is required by the State to zone for more affordable housing, but the location and rules governing those locations require environmental review and Coastal Commission decisions, which usually add extra time that delays the planning of such housing.  There was also a provision about environmental review of public art no longer being needed.  Councilman Whalen said that he pulled this item to get further clarification on where the restrictions will be on street fronting commercial buildings.

 

Joe Hanauer —  Suggested that while waiting for the Coastal Commission’s decision that commercial developers be allowed to get preliminary plans approved by the Planning Commission.

 

GW:  I asked Joe and City Staff if a Coastal Commission rejection of a plan approved by the Planning Commission would need to be revised, and that revision reviewed by Planning and the Coastal Commission.  Both confirmed that it would.

 

Item # 9 – Potential Utility Undergrounding Along Country Club Drive. Passed 5-0

(I pulled this item as did Mayor Sue Kempf) 

 

Background: Country Club Drive is the entrance to the Ranch at Laguna Beach. South Coast Water and Sewer District (SCWD), which serves Laguna residents who live south of Nyes Place, also has maintenance and other facilities along this road. Staff said Southern CA Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) may be interested in undergrounding two separate power lines, which travel along the road and along the north in the open space. It is uncertain what the City, or the Ranch, would pay for the undergrounding which would provide some fire safety and aesthetic improvements. 

 

GW: I pulled this item as the Staff report was thin on details, especially the costs involved and whether or not there is sufficient interest on the part of the utilities to underground their lines. Staff informed us that six hundred miles of overhead electric lines within the State of California that are in high severity fire zones can be undergrounded at little or no cost. We would apply to receive this benefit and will be doing so for Laguna Canyon Road as well. 

 

 

Item #10- Park Avenue Bike Lane Improvements Rebid. Passed  5-0

(I pulled this item)

 

Background: The City asked for a bid to create green bike lanes  up to Thurston Middle School on both sides of the roadway from the bottom of Park Ave., but the bids were much higher than expected. Meanwhile, we had received prior approval from the Coastal Commission for this project. Since the bids were in the half a million-dollar range, Staff came back with a proposal to use green paint at high visibility spots only, and white striping and bike lane signs on the pavement for the rest. This seemed like a good compromise and would reduce costs to $130,000. 

 

GW: I pulled this item as I wanted to make certain that everything is being done to make this project work effectively and provide a safer means for students travelling by bike. I recommended that Staff engage with school staff, students and their parents to get their input on how we could make bike travel along this route safer. Park Avenue is fairly steep which tempts kids, especially young boys, to speed when travelling downhill on Park. 

REGULAR BUSINESS

Item # 11:   2024 Community Survey of 400 residents. Passed 5-0. 

 

Background: On February 27, 2024, the City Council directed Staff to prepare a community survey and retain a consultant. Councilmembers Orgill and Whalen were appointed to a subcommittee that would work with the polling consultant to determine the scope and nature of the questions. The goal was to determine whether residents were open to increasing the taxes on hotel guests, or increasing the business license fee for businesses that have not been raised in over 20 years (and is among the lowest fees of any city in the State), or increase the sales tax. Four hundred residents were surveyed, although how the residents were selected for the sample (past or current committee membership?) wasn’t clarified.

 

City Manager (CM) Dave Kiff mentioned that in his work as CM at Newport Beach that he found the polling consultant, Probolsky Research, very good at their survey work.  He also said that he appreciated the public comments that suggested a number of inefficiencies needed to be remedied.  He said that simplifying the zoning codes would save costs. 

 

Councilmembers Whalen and Orgill itemized the various services that need to be funded, such as rebuilding the four fire stations to make them safe in case of an earthquake, the Be Well service for the homeless, and the on-demand transportation for residents. Councilmember Whalen reported that the Chamber is open to adjustments to the business license fees which haven’t gone up for 28 years. 

 

Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi affirmed that he was against a sales or business tax, and that the main job of city government is infrastructure.

 

Council directed staff to prepare a Ballot Measure that would raise the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) by 2%, with this item to be heard at the Council meeting scheduled for July 23rd. 

 

GW: There were many items on the survey so please read the entire survey at this URL: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2383&meta_id=195209

 

It was notable that 64% of respondents believed that the city budget is impacted by visitors. I will comment after each item below.

 

1. 41% rate the overall job that the Laguna Beach City government is doing as good.
GW:
Respondents had to choose between four categories--GOOD, FAIR, POOR, or UNSURE. Since there was a category for Poor (17%) or unsure (2.3%) then there should have been a category for EXCELLENT. An almost equal number of residents polled, 39.5%, said the city was doing a FAIR job.

GW: FAIR should not be an acceptable grade for providing services to residents. 

 

2. 85% rate the job Laguna Beach Police, Fire, and Marine Safety Departments as doing a good job.
GW: Again, There was no EXCELLENT category, which I see as a problematic omission on the survey. 

3. 63% think there is a need for additional funds to provide the level of City services and facilities:

GW: The sub percentages were 10.3% responding with “Great Need”, 31% with “Some Need”, and 22% with “Little Need”. If one adds the 22% to the 29% who responded with “No Real Need” you have a 51% majority of respondents saying that there is little or no need for additional funds. 

 

GW: Many residents have observed that the City has intensified spending on the hiring of additional employees over the last 10 years during a period of a population decline from a peak of 24,000 in 2009 to 22,500 in 2022.  We now have 345 employees, when we had 260 in 2016---a 50% increase. With such a substantial increase in the number of employees serving a reduced population one would expect the service rating to have been much higher than reported in the survey. 

 

There are also over 2,000 vacant homes owned by people living outside of Laguna Beach. 

 

  1. 46% are less likely to vote for the (BLT) Business License Tax after hearing that now is not the right time to levy additional taxes on the business community. 

 

GW: This question is very suspect as the survey statement above presumes that some higher authority or data has presented evidence that the business community is not in good shape. It actually is in very good shape. The total revenue of restaurants last year was $400 Million, averaging $3 million per restaurant. The bottom line is that the Council could raise these fees on higher revenue restaurants and not have to go to a Ballot Measure. The Council raised fees charged to residents for Community Development fees without a ballot measure, and the BLT fee is in the same category since it is really not a TAX, but a fee. It is unfortunate that the survey question was written in such a leading way.  It suggests that the Council majority is on the side of business interests at the expense of residents. 

 

GW: I do not fault the survey firm, Probolsky Research, but rather the poor wording of the survey questions that were created by the sub-committee with the consultant. To strengthen the questions so that you get clear answers on a subject targeted, one would need to run focus groups to understand what a sample of Laguna’s voters know and think about the background of the questions being asked. Without developing precise questions, the survey cannot be relied on to provide the reliable information needed to raise taxes or fees by millions of dollars. Why not spend the time to get the questions on the poll right for multi-million dollar decisions?

 

Public Comments on the Community Survey: 

 

Kurt Bjorkman (General Manager of the Ranch @ Laguna Beach) said the survey should have asked about the two different kinds of visitors: day vs. overnight visitors. He said the 14% TOT is one of the highest in the State and said all Laguna’s hotels will oppose it. He said it will also cause overnight visitors to choose less expensive options to stay along the coast.  He said that Laguna should be made to shine more with better landscaping maintenance, etc. 

 

Gene Felder, Jacob Cherub, and Michele Monda — said that the ordinance should go to a vote of the people to let them decide on whether or not to implement this ordinance. 

 

Judy Mancuso — said that Council has a long, expensive laundry list of City purchases with so many costly fiscal projects wanted all at once. 

 

Laura Parisi — suggested broadening the tax base.

 

John Thomas — recommended an increase in the business license fee for restaurants and bars at a graduated rate, and to phase the increase in gradually over a few years.

 

Jennifer Zeiter — was against any new taxes and said that the City has been on a spending spree for 18 months and needs to learn how to live within its budget of $130 million. 

 

Greg Viviani — asked where will the additional revenue generated from new taxes or fees go? 

 

Michele Monda  said 57% of survey respondents said the City was doing a fair or poor job. 51% said there was some or little need for more services; and, 60% said City funds needed to be spent more responsibly. 

 

Jacob Cherub — questioned why only 400 respondents were surveyed, and said that with so many survey questions being asked that many will just answer flippantly and not provide thoughtful responses. He was skeptical of the survey results. 

 

Ann Christoph — said Kurt was right that Laguna should shine. She said our landscapes, parks and natural resources have been neglected and that we need to take care of what we have rather than spending so much money on consultants. 

 

 

Item # 12: Lang Park Pickleball Update – 
 

Clause #1: Staff directed to analyze a redesign of Lang Park to relocate the pickleball courts so that they aren’t 25 feet away from residences. Passed 5-0

 

Clause #2A: Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi and Mayor Kempf moved to amend the Lang Park pickleball schedule to new hours from 9 a.m. to dusk, including on federal holidays except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Motion failed 3 opposed – 2 in favor.

 

Clause #2B: Amend the Lang Park pickleball court schedule so that the courts will be closed on federal holidays falling on a Monday as well as for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Passed 4 to 1 (Rounaghi dissenting).

 

Background:  Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi started the discussion by declaring that Lang Park is the only appropriate site for pickleball in South Laguna, and that pickleball was here to stay at Lang Park. He asked for a motion to keep the courts open from 8 a.m. to dusk. 

 

Councilmember Whalen reminded Council that the original plan was to expand the pickleball courts in Laguna Beach, and to move the current ones to another section of Lang Park if noise became problematic for residents.  He said he agreed with Councilman Weiss that the Council put the courts in the wrong place at Lang Park. He saw the main issue as being how do we relocate the courts in Lang Park?

 

Public Comments: 

 

Hillary Casten — stated that there was previously noise with profanity when the

tennis courts were there which she thinks were just as loud for residents as the pickleball games.

 

Claudia Redfern — thanked the city for selling quiet paddles. She said close the courts on Wednesday’s during the time Coach Marc teaches. She said the city has no control over who is playing on the courts and court behavior (such as the use of the quieter Owl paddles) without enforcement.

 

Susana C. — (resident living nearest the courts) played 20 seconds of pickleball activity. She says 70% of the players are using fiberglass paddles and not the quieter “owl” paddles. The courts need to be relocated to at least 250 feet from the residences. 

 

Nalini Lasiewicz, — a resident of La Cañada Flintridge provided a model noise ordinance. She said that noise researchers have categorized pickleball playing as creating an “impulsive” noise like fireworks or gunshots. 

 

Rosaenne K. — spoke in favor of pickleball even though she lives by the Sawdust Festival, which is a noisy area.

 

Greg Viviani  said pickleball is very loud and said just move the courts inside.  He also said Aliso Beach on the inland side could be a good spot for pickleball courts.

 

Ann Christoph — said move the pickleball courts inside to the LB Recreation Center Gym. 

 

GW: It is hard to know where to start when discussing this item. The residents who found themselves living within 25 feet of the pickleball courts when the tennis courts were replaced with years ago with pickleball have repeatedly submitted requests for relief from the sharp and abrupt noise caused by the paddles.  The residents have found little relief despite soundproofing being installed (which had limited effect), and the recommendation (not a requirement) for the use of quieter paddles. 

 

The bottom line is that the emerging national standard is to locate pickleball courts 250-500 feet from residences. 25 feet is too close to people’s homes.

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FeA Latin Band performing at the Water District….Note the very young musician. 

KELP
SUMMARY
NOTABLE
CONSENT
10
7
REGULAR
Community Survey
9
12

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Any mistakes or  omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss. No public funds were expended on this website.
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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.

 

Have a question about city government, need a document, or help finding the right person to talk to or anything else, please know that our City Clerk, Ann-Marie McKay is there to assist you professionally and capably. Email: amckay@lagunabeachcity.net or call 949-497-0309
 

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