CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 7/19/2022
"Review of my first year on City Council —
Library Purchase Update
George Weiss: On July 19, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved the sale of the Laguna Beach Library property to the City of Laguna Beach for $4.29 million and approved of a 25-year lease agreement with the County to continue operating the library. Once the financial transaction is completed, the City will be able to use that $4.29 million to restore, re-imagine and remodel the Library built in 1972. This is excellent news, and I will keep you informed when the transaction is completed, and we move to the exciting restoration phase.
I also wanted to clarify and dispel some misinformation that has been circulating regarding the monies spent by the County on operating the Laguna Beach Library. This last fiscal year, the direct costs were $1,629,806, which covers salaries, benefits, pensions, building repairs, electric services, lighting maintenance, plumbing, restroom repairs, utilities, janitorial, Facilities staff charges, fire, and burglar alarm systems. Direct costs account for 60% of the OC Public Library’s budget, and 40% goes to shared regional costs.
The erroneous information circulating stated that only $800,000 per year was being spent by the County on our Library and much of the of $2.8 million collected by the County was spent to support libraries in other cities. I am glad to share the financial documents I have with anyone wanting them.
I also wanted to clarify that even if we did want to disengage from the County Library system, the full amount of taxes allocated from property taxes would not come back to the City. This amount is negotiated between the City and County ‘s Financial, Library, and County Supervisory officials. By law, all monies coming back would be earmarked exclusively for library services.
Item 4 – Council Opposes Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative 3-2, Opposes Hotel Development Overlay Zone Initiative 5-0, Opposes Hotel Housekeeping Wage Initiative 4-0 (1 Abstention)
George Weiss: Laguna Residents First is a grassroots organization formed to help stop the overdevelopment of Laguna. Its ballot initiative has been written by and for residents. It gives residents the right to vote and approve of jumbo commercial projects – not just developers, commercial landlords and politicians. (Full disclosure: I was a co-founder of LRF in 2019 and resigned my position prior to running for City Council.)
The initiative has a lot of meat to it. Most of its 18 pages derives from having to quote many pages from the City’s existing codes governing commercial building height and parking requirements. In comparison, the recently revised Downtown Specific Plan is over 150 pages long. Try reading that one.
COVID gave LRF the time to turn the ballot initiative into a Swiss watch. The initiative is comprehensive and eliminates loopholes and workarounds within City government to might lead to inappropriate commercial overdevelopment.
Opposing groups, concerned that the LRF Initiative might pass, have been crafting another version. However, given the complexity of writing an initiative, their effort is a little too little and a little too late. I believe this group – which is working with the City – is planning to submit an ordinance that will have some protections... but not nearly enough.
Writing a ballot initiative is very time-consuming and extraordinarily difficult to write fairly. Some think that arbitrary parameters are written into the ballot initiative. However, if a project generates 200 more trips per day than the most recent use, doesn’t that mean more visitors will be coming to our town? If traffic and parking are problems in Laguna, yet a project brings in more visitors, at what point does the project become too much? At what point does overdevelopment negatively affect the value of residential property? Is a 22,000 square foot project not large enough for residents to be able to vote on approving it?
Please do your due diligence – read the Laguna Residents First ballot initiative, its summary and its FAQs are at www.lagunaresidentsfirst.org . Attend one of the group’s monthly meetings at the Unitarian Universal Fellowship church or speak to one of LRF’s core members who can answer your questions.
Item 5 – Councilman Weiss And
Environmental Sustainability Committee Co-Sponsor And Pass Item To Have Laguna And SOCAL REN Collaborate – 5-0
George Weiss: SoCal REN is a non-profit, ratepayer-funded network administered by Los Angeles County and authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2012. Its mission is to “achieve unprecedented levels of energy savings throughout Southern California.” This organization is chartered by the Public Utilities Commission, and Southern California Edison to help cities and public agencies develop and implement energy-savings projects.
Item 6 – Mayor Kempf’s Presents Item For Restricting
City Council Members From Introducing New
Agenda Items For Public Discussion
George Weiss: Although the published agenda item had no listed author, Mayor Sue Kempf admitted to sponsoring it. It gives the City Manager the gatekeeper power to determine which agenda items will be presented for public discussion at City Council meetings. The City Manager rightfully should have little or no power over the ability for Council members to present their idea. The City Manager’s job is to carry out the wishes of the City Council after an item has been presented, not dictate which items can and can’t be discussed in public.
I have attached it to this newsletter so please take the time to read it
This diminishes the democratic process and only serves to stifle the views of the minority members.
I have submitted many ideas for discussion in the last year. I proposed electrifying the City’s vehicle fleet, prohibiting the sale of most tobacco products, and most recently asked why 136 public parking spaces are being leased to landlords and businesses for about $60.00 a month while residents and tourists vie for parking spaces that can generate up to $4,200 each per year in meter fees – a potential loss of $563,000 per year in City revenue.
Given the potential suppression of items like this, it’s alarming that the restricting and outright banning of this democratic process are even being considered. I will be saying more about this and asking you to speak out against it in the very near future.
I have attached the proposed legislation and the previous one to this newsletter so please take the time to read it and send your comments to City Council at:
688.88 Resolution — July 3, 1968
A – Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee Members Appointed
George Weiss: We have an overabundance of talented people in this town, and two candidates vied for one open position on the Emergency /Disaster Preparedness Committee. One was Julian Harvey, who started his public safety career as a lieutenant in the Marine Safety Dept. and went on to serve in law enforcement for 30 years as Deputy Police Chief for the City of Anaheim and as Interim Chief in Huntington Beach.
Dr. William Dodge an Emergency Medicine Physician who started his medical career in the Navy was the other highly qualified candidate. Dr. Dodge has had a very wide range of responsibilities in his career, including serving at Scripps Hospital in San Diego, the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, a joint forces base in Djibouti, Africa, and our own Providence St. Joseph Mission Viejo/Laguna Beach hospital.
The City Council appointed both highly qualified candidates to the committee, with Harvey serving as a member and Dodge as an alternate member. (Alternate members attend meetings, but only vote when another member is absent.)
Item 1– Removal Of A Historic Register Property At 2920 Alexander Road Requested
George Weiss: From the brief discussion City Council had regarding this property, it was clear that the historical value of the building is not substantial. With that said, it is possible that the owner will tear this residence down and build the maximum number of houses allowed under the new SB 9. SB 9 allows the lot to be subdivided and two duplexes built on the site where there was just one single family residence. When I asked the owner what they intended to do with the property once it’s off the historic register, the owner evaded the question – twice.
Senate Bill 9 – the California Housing Opportunity and More Efficiency (HOME) Act – streamlines the process for a homeowner to create a duplex or subdivide an existing lot. Any new housing created because of this bill must meet a specific list of qualifications that protects historic districts, preserves environmental quality and the look of communities, and prevents tenants from being displaced. While this legislation will enable homeowners to create intergenerational wealth and provide access to more rental and ownership options for working families who would otherwise be priced out of neighborhoods, it also creates opportunities for developers to intensify residential development.
Item 3 – Concept Use And Financial Strategies For Purchase Of The St. Catherine School On 30516 Coast Highway Discussed
George Weiss: The opportunity to buy a superior property like this is extremely rare. During public comments, residents were verging on the euphoric in expressing their enthusiasm for acquiring the property. The structural materials, design, workmanship, and overall quality of this site is 10 on a scale of 1-10. It has a substantial dual use gym/theater, a 100-150 seat chapel, a soccer field, offices, and of many classrooms. It’s a total of 44,000 square feet and has decent parking and ocean views from the entire length of the property. Further development could produce many additional amenities, such as a swimming pool, affordable housing, extension classes, parking lots, and many other recreational uses. The chapel could be used as a music and events venue that could generate some income while also serving resident uses.
Other ideas proposed have been to partner with arts organizations or private schools. I also like the idea of doing City employee training at the site, as we do not have adequate training facilities at City Hall.
The City Council directed the City Manager to reach out to the community to solicit input on the use of the site and for staff to investigate financing options. The City is also working with the Laguna Beach Unified School District on the opportunity to share the property at some level. The initial interest is to possibly lease part of the site as a pre-school. It was historically a school and educational and that use has been a positive for the community.
Interested residents, please get familiar with this property, as your input is sorely needed. Please think about the best uses of the site for the town, your neighbors, and for you, yourself. Then email the City Council with your ideas and suggestions. The alternative is just having the participation of a smaller segment of the population determine the use of the property, without prioritizing what most benefits all residents.
Here’s a link to email all five Council members and the City Manager:
Here is a Google maps link to the site: