CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 8/24/2021
$2.8M Acquisition of New South Laguna Fire Station Site Approved 3-2
In June 2, the city entered escrow to purchase 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway
(The Ti Amo restaurant property) for a new fire station. The City Staff determined that it would be feasible to accommodate a new fire station. Soon after the city retained Rincon Consultants to prepare an initial feasibility study. Ironically, besides the replacement of current Fire Station 4, the report also considered a full array of alternative public uses, including a public park, restrooms, and parking. Although the actual use has yet to be determined, the 3-2 vote on the Tuesday 8/24/21 meeting nevertheless clears the way for purchasing the property for $2,800,000.
George Weiss: I read literally scores of letters from South Laguna Residents on this acquisition, and the vast majority strongly oppose it. Incredulously, after entering escrow, the City now says this may not be the site for a fire station. The City Council was never advised that the City would be pursuing this $2.8M purchase with the intention of using it as a park or for public restrooms. The option of using this site as a park was never considered until it appeared on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. Plus it leaves open the speculation that yet another property may be required for a fire station.
This site is small relative to others that were considered. At the City Council meeting on Tuesday, I brought up the limitations of this site, which were already documented in the letters submitted by residents. These limitations include:
The lot size is approximately 10,000 sq. ft. with a building envelop of 5,000 sq. ft. This barely meets the City’s stated minimum requirements for size and leaves no room for expansion.
There is no side street access, which makes it potentially dangerous for large fire trucks to get in and out of the site. This is especially problematic when turning north, as there is a median on Coast Hwy that will likely have to be removed. Losing this valued South Laguna asset will reduce the village’s character.
The cost to build would include tearing down the existing restaurant and would require building an underground parking structure. The City Manager recently stated that underground parking could cost up to $150,000 per space. Why demolish a restaurant that could benefit South Laguna residents when more eligible locations are available?
The site is directly in front of a residential neighborhood. Other sites are not as close to residential properties.
There was no professional appraisal made of this property’s value, so it’s uncertain if the City paid more than the fair market price.
Noise is a problem in any location, but here it’s amplified. Noise typically travels uphill more easily that downhill. Noise issues will likely be exacerbated if this site is used. This will be especially problematic if an ambulance is housed at this site. There are 1,500 ambulance calls per year in Laguna, and since South Laguna has close to 20% of the resident population, that could be approximately 375 ambulance trips per year, more than one a day.
Update On Hotel Laguna Passes 3-2
The City Council voted to rescind the stop work orders on Hotel Laguna and allow a temporary use permit to be issued allowing the restaurant and bar areas on the first floor to open. This same vote was illegally taken in closed session under an agenda item described as ‘Possible litigation.”
George Weiss: During the August 24 closed session meeting, the City Council voted 3-2 to allow an open session of City Council to discuss and vote on allowing Hotel Laguna to re-open its restaurant and bar area.
This was done in response to a “cure letter” written by Village Laguna which alleged that the City Council had violated the Brown Act during its 8/10/21 closed session by failing to report that the Council had secretly voted on allowing the hotel to open and then not reporting it to the public. The City Attorney’s legal opinion has been that the Brown Act was not violated.
Judge for yourself based on the actions the City took and the following evidence.
The Brown Act was created to ensure transparency on the Council’s actions with the public (Section 54950). The only exceptions are for personnel issues, labor negotiations, real estate, and litigation, which are allowed to be discussed in closed session (Section 54957.1).
The latter, “litigation,” was listed as a closed session agenda item on June 29 and noticed as: "Conference with Legal Counsel regarding anticipated litigation”. However, as Councilwoman Toni Iseman and I have attested, litigation was never discussed.
The Council instead was presented with an un-agendized item regarding permitted and unpermitted work being done at the Hotel Laguna. Rescinding the hotel’s stop work orders was also discussed. Then a vote was taken (3-2) to approve rescinding the stop work order to allow the work to be completed and the restaurant and bar opened.
No detailed plans for the renovation of the Hotel Laguna were offered; no planning commission review; and no review by the public of this decision was made in the open City Council session that followed the closed session.
As the Brown Act stipulates, it is a violation of Section 54957.7 for a City Council member to vote and pass an un-agendized item without the public’s knowledge or input since “the legislative body may consider only those matters covered in its statement [agenda].”
Since this issue is important, I would like to repost what Neil Fitzpatrick, the former three-term mayor and 12-year City Councilman of Laguna Beach, has written:
Open Public Meetings
Guest Contributor, Laguna Beach Independent, August 28, 2021,
Laguna Beach citizens are getting played by their own local government. At the same time, I must wonder who is in charge. They recently got caught in the process of trying to hide legitimate public business from the public view or participation. Then they tried to divert attention away from their own actions by blaming one of their own for reporting the actual crime.
So, what is this all about? When our local government wanted to help a major developer avoid public scrutiny, they decided to do it in secret by using a “closed session.” Since state law, the Brown Act, restricts closed meetings, they announced first that the closed session was permissible for “consideration of whether to initiate litigation”. When that didn’t seem to be enough cover, they added “significant exposure to litigation.”
What is interesting is that it has been reported that no discussion of any kind about any potential litigation or any lawsuit was mentioned during the closed session. So how is that for blowing their cover? The individual who was censured for exposing their bad behavior did commit the worst crime possible embarrassing a politician. It is OK to deceive but it is not OK to expose.
This all revolved around the actions of an administration that needed to crack down on a major developer who had violated city orders, time and time again, by making promises to play it straight only to violate his own promises. (GW Note: Five stop work orders were issued because of unpermitted work.) We have someone here who has a different code of ethics than most people.
Now City Hall and the City Council, rather than punishing this developer and forcing him into line, has become his accomplice. The cherished value of “equal treatment before the law” is being trampled for a developer who has violated every permit the City has issued him. Is that what residents want or expect from City government?
Award Of Task Order For Design Of
Widening Bluebird Canyon Drive
Bluebird Canyon Drive is a key access road. Widening the road to provide sufficient emergency egress is identified in the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Report to improve evacuation of residents of upper Bluebird.
George Weiss: I was not pleased about voting to approve this funding. I am for undergrounding the utility poles and for fixing the existing retaining wall, but at a total cost of $4M, I don’t see the benefit. The agenda bill stated that the roadway would be widened by approximately 6-7 feet. I am looking into if this includes the steel beams and roadway barriers needed to keep vehicles from tumbling into the Arroyo.
The roads that connect to Bluebird going west are the routes that residents would take in case of an evacuation. Emergency vehicle access is also one of the possible benefits. But let’s think about how this will work. If there is an evacuation, residents will immediately be travelling on all routes, (upper Bluebird Canyon Road and Morningside to El Rancho) to Bluebird going west.
Is there adequate justification for widening this road and are the negative impacts to the open space being addressed? Bluebird Canyon residents who walk this open space will be seeing a very long and, in some places, a high wood and steel retaining wall, perfect for taggers, to say nothing about the impacts on trees that front the roadway and damage to other trees and plants in the construction zone.
Library Updates Hours,
Calls For Children Sign-Ups
The Orange County Public Library system is returning to regular hours on September 24. It will continue in-person programming and services created during the pandemic, including curbside pick-up, chat reference questions, virtual author events and story times.
Check out its website at https://www.ocpl.org/ for hours, programs and events, reading recommendations, the 100 Book Centennial Challenge, the OCPL newsletter, and library services on-the-go from the OCPL Mobile Library!
This year, in honor of OC Public Libraries' Centennial, libraries are celebrating patrons and thanking them for their 100 years of being library users.
Since 1987, America’s libraries have held Library Card Sign-up Month in September to mark the beginning of the school year. It’s a national effort to ensure every child signs up for a library card. There’s nothing more empowering than a library card – through access to books and other library resources, educational programs and free internet services, libraries provide the opportunities for communities grow and for our children to pursue their dreams and passions.