By Larry Nokes
Great thanks to Allan Simon for putting a fine point on a current topic of great debate: the village entrance (“Will Council Lead?” Letters, Aug. 30). As Mr. Simon notes: “the city council voted 3-2 to approve taking the next step in the development of the Village entrance project. The city manager described the project as ‘extremely conceptual’ at the time of the vote.” Mr. Simon insightfully went on to describe the opposition as stating “we don’t know any more about the project now, but we want to vote on it, also!”
Mr. Simon’s observations for the most part factually correct. On March 26, 2013, the vote was actually 4-1 to move forward with a concept for improvement of the corner lot, Councilmember Iseman joined the majority wanting to go forward with the project, but noted for the record that she thought the cost of the “park” (as opposed to “parking”) was too high. But otherwise, Mr. Simon correctly frames the dispute. His conclusion urging the city council to rescind their vote and go back to “square zero” is, respectfully, not the right recommendation.
What the Council members Iseman, Pearson, Whalen, Dicterow and Mayor Boyd did in voting to move forward with the village entrance project was to agree to take the next step in developing the design for an improvement the city desperately needs. The concept has been studied, publicly debated and approved along the way, and even subjected to a full environmental impact report. A final design has not been proposed or approved. Pricing and financing has not been established.
Mr. Simon does not mention that each of these next steps will be noticed for public hearing and comment, and will be voted upon by the appropriate city bodies after public comment is received. As part of the process of the council moving the idea forward, the first iteration of the design will be unveiled at the Oct. 1, 2013 council meeting. This begins the public design process. There will be no project manager hired, no working drawings prepared, final determination of construction costs, and development of a critical path until the design of the improvement is finally determined after appropriate hearings.
Opponents to the project would have the public believe the council’s vote was a vote to start construction. Not true. The vote simply raised the flag on commencing of the design process.
The opponents are against taking the next step in the design process of the improvement of this blighted corner, a process that has been going through an orderly sequence of refinements through public hearings since 1995. They now want to deprive the city of the opportunity to even look at the next step. They raise the fears of what the improvement of this blighted corner will lead to.
This fear of a new idea has manifested itself before. Many who now urge the Council to “rescind” led the charge against the Montage, Treasure Island Park, Main Beach Park, and even against the Susi Q Senior Center. Yet we overcame those shouts, and all of these projects were ultimately vetted through a process and became venerable elements of the city. Where would we be had we bowed to the vocal few and refused to even consider taking the first steps toward consideration of concepts that germinated to become city treasures?
It is understandable why people are frightened of new ideas. But in this case, they should be afraid of the old ones; no change will result in long term circulation problems in Laguna Beach. A case has already been made that parking is a problem in Laguna. Surrounding population at our very own gateway is growing. The improvement proposed for the barren corner of Broadway and Forest Avenue is an element of necessary additional improvements that we need now. The present concept takes a blighted corner and turns it into something beautiful, useful, and necessary. A beautifully landscaped and lighted walkway, in a location that welcomes people into the city, will also provide much-needed parking in a congested area.
Let the process proceed. It will not be the end of the conversation, but it is a necessary first step in creating a solution. If the proposed design is too ugly, too expensive or financially unsustainable, it will be rejected during the approval process. To run away from this improvement at this critical point after a sequential and orderly approval process which started in 1995 is reckless and disrespectful of the thousands of citizens who participated in nearly 50 public hearings leading up to this point. Yet we leave ourselves without options if every time the Council makes a move to deal with this pressing need, we fall victim to arguments that almost cost us Main Beach Park, The Susi Q Senior and Community Center and the Montage.
Resident and attorney Larry Nokes is president elect of Laguna Beach’s Chamber of Commerce and chairs a task force drafting a view ordinance.
Other signers: Joe Hanauer, Morris Skendarian, Aaron Talarico, Matt Lawson, Tim Carlyle, Mike Kinsman, Marshall Ininns, Shaena Stabler, Kenneth Fischbeck, Kristine Thalman, Mary Ferguson, Gerry Perez, Cody Engle, Debbie MacDonald, Mark Orgill, Peter Blake, Pat Kollenda, Glenn Gray, George Nelson, Stevan Gromet, Thomas Neptune, Anders Lasater