Open Space Measure Rejected by Voters

A clear majority of Laguna Beach voters, 55.6 percent, cast ballots in opposition to open-space preservation Measure CC, the lone local initiative in contention during Tuesday’s election. The measure needed approval by two-thirds of those casting votes and fell far short. Just 4,564 or 44.1 percent voted in favor of the measure while 5,793 opposed it.

The measure sought voter approval to impose a $120 a year tax on every privately owned parcel within city limits for 20 years in order to replenish city coffers for open space land purchases.

Environmental groups, several neighborhood associations and a high-profile environmental activist supported the initiative financially, raising $34,000 through Oct. 20, according to campaign disclosures. Their mailings attempted to tap into the impassioned revolt of more than two decades ago, when thousands of people marched to protest impending development in Laguna canyon and later taxed themselves for 20 years to buy land that became a wilderness park.

People were unconvinced this was the right way to attain open space, skeptical that the city lacked funds for future purchases and were not as familiar with the development threats as they were then, said measure proponent Ann Christoph, also an Indy columnist.

“It was a boondoggle,” said Martha Lydick, president of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Assoc., whose criticism of the measure surfaced in a mailer that coincided with the arrival of absentee ballots in October.

“It’s taking power away from the people we elected,” Lydick said, referring to the measure’s intent to establish a citizen’s oversight committee that was to make acquisition recommendations to the City Council. “We don’t need a little committee telling us what to do.”

Measure CC spokesman Paul Freeman said the counterattack’s claims came as a surprise. “We weren’t smart enough to anticipate that they would take the citizens’ oversight watchdog committee and turn it into a secret committee with a slush fund that wasn’t accountable, that would have the powers and money that only the City Council has,” he said, referring to public accusations by taxpayers’ spokesman Howard Hills.

“We were trying to duplicate the committee they had for the school bond,” Christoph said, referring to an oversight panel that included members of the taxpayer group, which was established as a condition of a $39-million bond measure passed overwhelmingly by Laguna voters in June 2001.

Despite the initiative’s language that Christoph says was an attempt to woo support by the taxpayers’ group, CC’s backers knew they faced opposition as the taxpayers group filed a ballot argument in opposition, Christoph said. “We just didn’t know how hard they were going to push it,” she said, calling the taxpayers’ single mailer damaging despite their own slew of direct mail pieces touting the measure.

Freeman deflected the opposition’s argument that omitting a defined lot size from the measure’s text could result in a public bailout for land speculators. “It is true that there is no minimum lot size,” he said, though the measure did define eligible open-space characteristics as those having aesthetic and recreational value and environmental and biologic value. “It had to be consistent with the pattern of open-space acquisitions that the city’s had for 25 years,” he said.

Measure CC’s initial sponsors included Village Laguna, Laguna Greenbelt Inc., the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, the South Laguna Civic Assoc., the Temple Hills Community Assoc. and the Top of the World Neighborhood Assoc., Christoph said. More recent filings also included an infusion from Getty Oil heiress Ann Getty Earhart.

In hindsight, both sides think the public would have been better informed about the measure if candidates’ forums had included more direct debate on the initiative.

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