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Hesitant to Write a Blank Open-Space Check

Editor: 

I have seen several letters commenting on the efforts of “Citizens for Preservation of Open Space” (sponsored by Laguna Greenbelt, Inc.).

This initiative would create a special fund for acquisition 550 acres of private property for preservation as open space financed by a new tax on all property owners in Laguna Beach for the next 20 years.

Although I am sure most Lagunans would like to maintain the opens spaces we now enjoy, I am unconvinced that this is way to achieve those goals.

To learn more about this initiative I asked Laguna Greenbelt if they could provide answers to these questions:

1.     How many parcels of private land are included in the initiative? (possibly a tract map showing the parcels would be helpful)

2.     How many individuals own these parcels?

3.     Have any parcel owners filed applications to build homes on their parcels? If so, can you provide a list of these proposed projects that would be ended if the land was sold to the city?

4.     Has an appraisal been completed to put a current market value on these parcels? If not, has there been any recent transactions that might provide some indication of parcel values?

5.     Does the initiative limit the use the acquired land to wilderness preserve with dirt hiking trails? Or will the city have the right to use the land for other public purposes? If so, what are those purposes?

6.     If the initiative passes, is there a time limit set where the city must acquire sufficient land to create a significant wilderness or park area? If the city is unsuccessful, is the balance of the fund returned to the taxpayers? Would the few parcels that are purchased be sold with refunds to the taxpayer?

To date, Laguna Greenbelt has not responded. In reading the legal version of the initiative, I am concerned that there are no procedures for soliciting applications from property owners or procedures for negotiating terms and conditions  favorable to the taxpayers. There also appears to be no termination provisions other than another vote by the people.

How would this program be unwound it is unsuccessful? Even though the City Council will receive occasional reports, I worry about creating another city committee run by unpaid volunteers who will have day to day control over how the $20 million will be managed and who will profit from so many small real estate transactions.  

As someone who enjoys frequent hikes on our trail networks, I very much want have as much open space as possible in Laguna Beach. But until I get some definitive answers to these questions, I am reluctant to give a large 20-year blank check to this new committee.

Douglas H. Cortez, Laguna Beach

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