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Appeals Should Not Bypass the City Council

Editor,

Mark Christy and his partners at The Ranch are caught in the grips of an unwarranted Coastal Commission appeal. I served as chairman of the Laguna Beach Planning Commission on May 14, the night The Ranch project was heard. I can attest that only two points questioning The Ranch proposal were raised in the public testimony the Commission heard that night.

The first point questioned the adequacy of the project’s California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. The second point noted an alleged 100-year-old grove of trees located on the golf course, an area totally unaffected by the proposed construction. The questioner made the suggestion that the trees should perhaps be considered for heritage tree designation; otherwise, he said, “The project looks fine to me. I wish all these people the best of luck.”

The Planning Commission then discussed the CEQA review and the tree issue in addition to other questions raised by members of the Planning Commission about the project. The Ranch received a unanimous approval and the 14-day city appeal period expired.

Normally, decisions of the Planning Commission are appealed to the City Council, but that didn’t happen in the case of The Ranch. Instead, on June 16, over a month after the Planning Commission public hearing, a 50-page appeal was sent directly to the staff of the California Coastal Commission. With the exception of the two issues described above, none of the myriad issues contained in the 50-page appeal had been raised to the Planning Commission.

Our local elected officials were bypassed in favor of a distant state bureaucracy. The appellant chose to leapfrog to a state Commission, denying our elected City Council the opportunity to even hear, let alone address the appellant’s concerns.

Last week, for the first time, three Coastal Commission staff members visited The Ranch. While they did not insist that work cease, Mr. Christy had been threatened in writing with enforcement action by Coastal Commission staff if construction on The Ranch wasn’t halted. And while the Coastal staff makes voluminous demands for information from Mr. Christy and his partners, commencement of Phases II and III, and completion of the project are delayed until a “de novo” hearing is held by the Coastal Commission with no guarantee that the hearing will occur before next year.

In the meantime, the long-awaited rebirth of a city treasure hangs in the balance. We can all support this environmentally sensitive project by signing Mr. Christy’s petition at the following web page: (http://www.theranchatlagunabeach.com/the-rlb/community- support.htm), and by attending the Coastal Commission “de novo” hearing whenever and wherever it is scheduled.

We should also do something else. We should change our procedures so that appellants are required to appeal all concerns to the City Council first, so that the city has an opportunity to address those concerns. In the future, no one should be allowed to bypass the City Council and appeal a lawful local land use decision or permit directly to the staff of the Coastal Commission.

Robert M. Zur Schmiede Laguna Beach

The author is a candidate for city council.

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