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CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 6/25/2024 

staff

I hope all of you, your families and friends had an enjoyable 4th celebrating our Nation’s founding.  It is always so heartening to see how our community comes together not only to celebrate in our neighborhoods like the enjoyable Brooks St potluck breakfast, parade, and speeches from those who have served our country, such as Eric Jensen and Howard Hills---as well as at the Main Beach and Heisler Park celebration with this year’s drone show.  It was fun to hear our neighbor’s kids and grandkids shouting out “the lighthouse!” “our trolleys!” as they identified each drone display.  Hats off to our great city team of Jeremy Frimond, Michael Litschi and the Community Services team for pulling together a Laguna customized show like this in such short order.  (Loved the surfer who turned into a dolphin).

 

Summary

In this recap we cover an initial review of a Draft of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan Reduction Strategies; Presentation of the Commercial District Beautification/Property Maintenance Program; and, Adoption of the Fiscal Year 2024-25 Budget.

Notable Items from Public Comments

 

Richard Plavetich, Korlan Buxton, Helga Yaillen, John Glaviovich, James Asadia, Dave Csira, Zach Jacobes Dan Drewenowski, Gordon McGregor, Barry Simmons, MJ Abraham, Judy Mancuso Joy Berry and Gayle Waite and others listed below all expressed their concerns regarding the density, mass, and neighborhood impacts of the Neighborhood Congregational Church (NCC) in partnership with Related Companies of California proposed plan to build 72 units of affordable housing.

Korlan Buxton talked about the low-income housing project being proposed at the Neighborhood Congregational Church. He said that if the 43-page design of the 72-unit project consisting of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments were built it would adversely change the character of the neighborhood. He said that NCC and the developer have not been collaborating with the neighbors.

Richard Plavitch said the project was too big at 53 feet high with 5–10 foot setbacks and would cover the length of St. Anne’s street from Glenneyre to Catalina. The density would be 50 units per acre and there would no longer be any open space on the site.

Dave Phillips, a real estate broker, said he polled his colleagues, and they thought the property values of nearby residents would go down.

Barry Simmons spoke opposing the mass and scale of the NCC project and said it was in conflict with CEQA.

Dan Drewenowski said the NCC project as proposed would be the largest commercial project since the Ranch @ Laguna Beach. He said it could have impacts on air flow, be a fire hazard and block residential views.

Court McGregor said the while the Church may have some exemption, that exemption denies “Due Process.”

MJ Abraham said she was outraged by the scope of the NCC project and also asked that Zoom be brought back.

Joy Berry said that while the city’s hands may be tied there is no reason for the city to give $2 ½ million to $5 million to the developers of this project.

GW: Although NCC has not formally submitted their plans to Community Development the conceptual drawings were submitted as required for the City to apply for a $2.5-million-dollar matching State grant. The land is owned by NCC so a grant may not make much difference as two thirds or more of the project cost is the land. 
 

I served as Chair of the Housing and Human Services Committee for two years and support affordable housing. There are seniors, families, local artists and workers who are being priced out of the rental housing market.  My position is that any affordable housing project needs to be a Win/Win and have the support of the neighborhood and extended local community.

Herbicide Use:
 

Amber Sparks spoke about the use of the herbicide Suppress at Heisler. Although Suppress is an herbicide made from organic compounds it is still unsafe for children or dogs who come in close contact with it. 

Amy Jackson seconded the comments made by Amber.

 

Reinstating Zoom

John Thomas, Judie Mancuso, Gayle Waite, and Trish Sweeney asked that the Council reconsider their decision to prohibit Zoom participation for Council meetings.

Judy Mancuso said if big cities like LA and NYC can do Zoom--why not Laguna?

Joanne Sutch asked that we bring back Zoom.

GW: The use of Zoom has been suspended due to outside agitators who used Zoom on one occasion to disparage Jewish people, LGBTQI people, and others. While this is reprehensible, many cities, like Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, Yorba Linda, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Monica, Whittier, National City, Alameda, Palos Verdes, Del Mar, Pasadena, Union City, Sonoma, Mountain View, and Palm Springs have found a way to minimize the risk of “Zoom Bombing.” Doing so allows residents, like working families or those with young or school-aged children, Seniors, those with disabilities, and residents who travel out of town for business or pleasure to participate in local government.
 

The residents who spoke are but a small number of many who support the re-instatement of Zoom. For those interested, please read comments from the many residents who wrote to me or commented on social media. See attached PDF.

REGULAR AGENDA

 

Item # 9: An Initial Review of Draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) Reduction Strategies: Received and filed by Council; no vote taken.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Laguna Beach Energy use by Source.

 

Background: The City Council adopted a CAAP in 2022 whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2045. 85% of our carbon emissions can be eliminated by electrification of vehicles and homes. The City has already taken steps to electrify its fleet and has created a plan to install charging stations at City sites and around town. Expect action on this in late 2024 and 2025. The City Council will receive a presentation on Community Choice Energy, which could provide residents with a clean source of electrical power generated mostly by solar power. There are approximately sixty wholesale producers of solar, and the electric utilities (e.g. PG&E and SCE) are also buying clean energy from these producers.

 

GW:  Asst. City Manager, Jeremy Frimond gave a presentation on this update which included lots of actions the city will be taking, and the actions being taken to educate the community on tax credits, benefits, utility programs and rebates. Please read the staff report at this URL: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2391&meta_id=195627

 

Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi recommended that we jettison the remainder of the consultant contract citing the fact that we are already on the path to achieving the majority of the goals for zero emissions by installing solar panels on city buildings, purchasing electric vehicles for our fleet and installing charging stations citywide.

 

Instead, Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi recommended we create a revolving fund to implement the most cost-beneficial technology like solar and for energy conservation.

 

GW:  This strategy has merit as it would recycle the cost savings back into the revolving fund to be invested again and again to achieve our CAAP goals. The Council did not agree with the actions Mayor Pro Tem Rounaghi recommended but I think we should do so in the near future.

 

Item # 10 - Presentation of Commercial District Beautification/Property Maintenance Program, Passed 3-1 (I dissented, and Councilmember Whalen was absent)

Background: The City lacks a commercial building maintenance ordinance, and unfortunately some landlords and businesses have not kept up their properties in Downtown. Councilmember Orgill and Mayor Kempf stated that they walked Downtown and saw 25-30 buildings in need of paint or other repairs. Their goal was to give commercial property owners financial incentives to maintain these properties. See table below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Council Member Comments from an article in the Indy entitled, “Charm Challenge.”  Councilmember Mark Orgill suggested providing certain incentives to encourage compliance and pointed out the cost-prohibitive nature of requiring tenants and property owners to update paint color and make other repairs.  “I think notification is what we should start with, and then waiving the fees or grandfathering some fees for a certain time, to incentivize everybody to jump in and take advantage of it over, let’s say (nine months),” said Orgill to Councilmember Weiss, who wants tenants and property owners to take the initiative.

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi: “When we step back, over-regulation is the problem of why we’ve gotten into this mess. It is ridiculous to have a committee basically telling you what color your building should be. I think that is so antithetical to our creative nature as a community… this is a good policy, too, because I think a rising tide lifts all ships by getting some of these businesses by seeing that the city is committed to revitalizing our downtown.”

Public Comments

 

John Thomas: “It is in the best self-interest of retailers and the building owners who lease to retailers to make a positive impression on customers. So, it is mind-boggling when these businesses and building owners do not maintain their properties. They are shooting themselves in their own feet…”

LB Chamber of Commerce: The chamber feels it incredibly important to incentivize, on some level, business owners/property owners so they can address any maintenance/beautification issues in a timely manner.”

GW:  I disagreed with the City Council’s plan to give away public funds to a small number of business owners and commercial landlords to do what the majority of business owners do now: Maintain their properties! Laguna’s Downtown business district should look beautiful, but not at the expense of residential taxpayers. I am interested in your thoughts on this.

 

Note: The total annual rents collected by downtown landlords is $50 million and the gross revenue for all Laguna restaurants and bars is $400 million annually for an average of $3 million in gross sales for each.

 

Enforcing existing general nuisance laws should be the primary method of holding landlords accountable for the maintenance of their buildings. (Wouldn’t most of us like someone to pay for the repair and upkeep of our homes 😉?) Why this gift of public funds of up to $10,000. per building for up to 30 buildings?

 

 

Item # 1:  Adoption of the Fiscal Year 2024-2025 Budget, Passed 5-0

 

Background: There were 11 recommendations for approval and Council approved 10. Recommendation number 7 had to do with changing the appeal fee for Design Review Board (DRB) appeals from $2,000. to $12,000. City staff claimed that amount would cover the costs for Staff time for DRB appeals. Dave Kiff, the City Manager (CM), asked that the item be withdrawn, and Council agreed.

 

That action took place because so many emails and public testimony opposed this fee hike as discouraging, if not extinguishing, residents appeals to the DRB.

 

Public Comments:

 

Chris Prelitz suggested retaining the current fee but requiring a $10,000. deposit refundable if the project appeal was upheld.

 

Ann Caen, speaking on behalf of Village Laguna, said she opposes any change in the appeal fees.

 

Cathrine Jurca wrote “that just two years ago, Council increased Community Development fees, finding that “the adopted fees would appropriately balance off-setting actual incurred costs with the general public interest served.” To justify the current proposed six-fold increase, the staff report states, without evidence, that “Appeal actions primarily serve the goals and interests of the appellant rather than the greater public interest.”

 

Tony Fisch wrote that San Diego residents pay $1,000., Newport Beach is $2,100., Dana Point is $500. And Huntington Beach is $2,693.

 

John Thomas recommended that appellants should do most of the work to make their case for their appeal. He also said this item should not be buried in the fine print of a 114-page budget item. There was no documentation presented for the staff costs that would justify the increase.

 

 

COMMUNITY NEWS

 

On July 4th we celebrated the founding of our nation. I attended the 17th annual Brooks St. Neighborhood Celebration where Howard Hills, a 4th generation Laguna resident, said that only through the Rule of Law are the hard-won freedoms we enjoy protected.

 

July 4th also marked the start of a community fundraising campaign for the first fire truck purchased by the City. The 1931 Seagrave pictured below was in operation protecting our town until 1962 when it was retired from service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1931 Seagrave at a South Laguna Neighborhood Event prior to 2012

 

From 1961 to 2012 the Seagrave saw service in the annual Patriot’s Day Parade, delivered Santa to Hospitality Night, and was enjoyed at many civic events like the one pictured above.  It suffered engine failure in 2012, and has been sitting idle awaiting the day when it would be restored through funding approved by the city and our community. The City Council has already approved $150,000 but we need at least another $100,000 to restore it to its original condition.

 

Please consider a donation of any amount to support this classic symbol of our town. Together, let us bring back Santa’s ride and an original piece of Laguna’s history.
 

To make a tax-deductible donation please write a check to Laguna Beach Firefighters Community Assistance Fund, Address: LB Firefighters Community Assistance Fund, PO Box 637, Laguna Beach, CA 92652 when writing your check make sure you include “Seagrave” in the memo line.                    

Or donate online at: https://www.lbffa.org/seagrave-restoration/

 

Thanks,

 

George Weiss,

City Council

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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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