The recent large turn over in the Community Development Department has exacerbated building code confusion as to what can be approved over the counter and what needs to go to Design Review. That has led to some folks gaming the system who through a piece meal approach get big extensive and complicated projects approved over the counter thereby bypassing Design Review. Laguna Beach has a tiny bureaucracy which paraphrasing the stern warden in Cool Hand Luke, exhibits “a failure to communicate” with each of the responsible offices.
Most newcomers don’t get what happened in Laguna in 1993. On October 27, 1993 the east blowing Santa Ana winds blew a small fire that started up the canyon and pushed it down the canyon toward town quickly transforming it into a very big fire. Over 400 homes burned down. The Laguna Beach fire became the 15th largest fire in American history. The losses from the October 1993 fire amounted somewhere between 528 million dollars to 786 million dollars.
Afterward the newly elected city council loosened the building codes in order to facilitate the rapid reconstruction of the town. Much of the city was rebuilt quickly as hoped for by the city council. But by modifying existing building codes the city created a situation where the Design Review process could be circumvented. Consequently the city was flooded opportunist contractors and developers, who, among other breaches of the building codes, mansionized homes in direct violation of the spirit and character of Laguna Beach. As former Mayor Ann Christoph clearly pointed out in an article published in the LA Times (1/10/1999), “What an impact the coincidence of natural disaster and corporate desire to develop can have on the future of a community….”
Today the newcomers have mischaracterized the “proposed policies with amendments as prepared by the Design Review Board” as a power grab by the City Council. The DRB and the City had become aware of piece mealing because Laguna neighborhoods have bitterly complained their concerns were not being listened to. Building Codes are there to protect everyone. Weak or non-existing Building Codes favor the avaricious few over the community as a whole. The City Council should seriously consider the grassroots efforts of thoughtful folks all over Laguna and tighten up the rules by which big complicated projects are permitted and insure our beautiful little town remains beautiful and little.
TC Borelli, Laguna Beach