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Village Matters

 Changing the baby with the bathwater

  Remember the days when city hall’s offices would close for lunch?  So did Laguna Lumber. I hear that Laguna Lumber would also close for two weeks in the summer to allow its employees to have a summer vacation. And of course, until Ganahl bought it, it was never open on Saturdays. 

 

We all just had to understand the Laguna way of doing things, low key and not oriented to suburban convenience but to the lifestyles of the workers in a small town.

 

Now we are in a new era and city hall is trying to make customer service improvements.  They started out really well in my book.  When I found out the permit counter would be open all day and planners would be available the whole time I was amazed and grateful.  How convenient it is to go there and get my questions answered while downtown on another errand. Gone are the days of standing at the counter bewildered, seeing the person you want to talk to walk by, but not being allowed to speak because of that sign on the counter that says, “Counter Closes at 3 p.m.”

 

Now some more reform is being proposed. 

 

The council is considering reassigning design review functions to the Planning Commission for all non-residential projects. The thought is that if a project needs a conditional use, such as a restaurant, from the Planning Commission, the commission could consider design review at the same time — one-stop shopping, so to speak. However, there will be many projects not involving a conditional use permit, yet Planning Commission would hear design review for all industrial, institutional, commercial, and mixed-use projects.   

 

This all came about because of the disjointed decision-making for the upgrades to the CVS/Albertson’s shopping center.  The applicant came to the Planning Commission to restripe and add more spaces to the parking lot. Separately there was a review for Starfish restaurant and enlarging La Sirena restaurant. The Planning Commission approved both, including fenced-in outdoor seating. Finally, the Design Review Board looked at the architectural changes to the building facades and the design of the fences for the outdoor seating areas. 

 

At the joint Council, Planning Commission, Design Review meeting in May, the public suggested that if cumulative effect of all of the projects could have been understood from the beginning, there could have been a more effective review.

 

We might not have ended up with outdoor seating fences that block the main walkway and force customers to walk outside the covered area (potentially in the rain) when going from one store to another.  We might have understood that the whole shopping center was going in the direction of a restaurant mall, to the detriment of other resident-serving businesses.

 

The discussion turned to giving the Planning Commission more design review duties, when what really should happen is more coordination between applications so that the total scope of projects can be understood from the beginning.

 

The Design Review Board is highly skilled at its work, evaluating neighborhood compatibility, mass and scale, materials, design appropriateness.

 

The Planning Commission is experienced and competent at assessing planning issues, compliance with codes, balancing of uses, and general plan conformity.

 

Each body should continue to specialize in its areas of expertise. There should be one unified approach to design review, not potentially different evaluations and decisions depending on whether an applicant has design review by the Design Review Board or the Planning Commission.

 

The Planning Commission has so many important issues and projects on its special projects list–artist live-work, parking management, Downtown Specific Plan, housing, environmental thresholds, sustainability, residential building size, walkways for Temple Hills, Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road, the Open Space/Conservation Element…This is where they should be spending their time, not on design review.

 

The answer lies in requiring a project submittal that includes a comprehensive list of all of the applications and requests. If it is a large project, we can have joint meetings of Planning Commission and Design Review, as we did with Treasure Island.  Mostly though, there will be small conditional use applications, some coupled with façade changes.

 

This is a major policy change, not a just a tune-up to improve customer service. The continuity of design approach from residential to the other areas of the town can be lost, and the Planning Commission’s focus will be diluted from the important city-wide long-range issues.

 

We can solve a relatively minor coordination problem without changing the scope of work of our two major design and planning bodies.

 

Ann Christoph, a

Village Matters

 

Changing the baby with the bathwater

 

By Ann Christoph

 

Remember the days when city hall’s offices would close for lunch?  So did Laguna Lumber. I hear that Laguna Lumber would also close for two weeks in the summer to allow its employees to have a summer vacation. And of course, until Ganahl bought it, it was never open on Saturdays. 

 

We all just had to understand the Laguna way of doing things, low key and not oriented to suburban convenience but to the lifestyles of the workers in a small town.

 

Now we are in a new era and city hall is trying to make customer service improvements.  They started out really well in my book.  When I found out the permit counter would be open all day and planners would be available the whole time I was amazed and grateful.  How convenient it is to go there and get my questions answered while downtown on another errand. Gone are the days of standing at the counter bewildered, seeing the person you want to talk to walk by, but not being allowed to speak because of that sign on the counter that says, “Counter Closes at 3 p.m.”

 

Now some more reform is being proposed. 

 

The council is considering reassigning design review functions to the Planning Commission for all non-residential projects. The thought is that if a project needs a conditional use, such as a restaurant, from the Planning Commission, the commission could consider design review at the same time — one-stop shopping, so to speak. However, there will be many projects not involving a conditional use permit, yet Planning Commission would hear design review for all industrial, institutional, commercial, and mixed-use projects.   

 

This all came about because of the disjointed decision-making for the upgrades to the CVS/Albertson’s shopping center.  The applicant came to the Planning Commission to restripe and add more spaces to the parking lot. Separately there was a review for Starfish restaurant and enlarging La Sirena restaurant. The Planning Commission approved both, including fenced-in outdoor seating. Finally, the Design Review Board looked at the architectural changes to the building facades and the design of the fences for the outdoor seating areas. 

 

At the joint Council, Planning Commission, Design Review meeting in May, the public suggested that if cumulative effect of all of the projects could have been understood from the beginning, there could have been a more effective review.

 

We might not have ended up with outdoor seating fences that block the main walkway and force customers to walk outside the covered area (potentially in the rain) when going from one store to another.  We might have understood that the whole shopping center was going in the direction of a restaurant mall, to the detriment of other resident-serving businesses.

 

The discussion turned to giving the Planning Commission more design review duties, when what really should happen is more coordination between applications so that the total scope of projects can be understood from the beginning.

 

The Design Review Board is highly skilled at its work, evaluating neighborhood compatibility, mass and scale, materials, design appropriateness.

 

The Planning Commission is experienced and competent at assessing planning issues, compliance with codes, balancing of uses, and general plan conformity.

 

Each body should continue to specialize in its areas of expertise. There should be one unified approach to design review, not potentially different evaluations and decisions depending on whether an applicant has design review by the Design Review Board or the Planning Commission.

 

The Planning Commission has so many important issues and projects on its special projects list–artist live-work, parking management, Downtown Specific Plan, housing, environmental thresholds, sustainability, residential building size, walkways for Temple Hills, Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road, the Open Space/Conservation Element…This is where they should be spending their time, not on design review.

 

The answer lies in requiring a project submittal that includes a comprehensive list of all of the applications and requests. If it is a large project, we can have joint meetings of Planning Commission and Design Review, as we did with Treasure Island.  Mostly though, there will be small conditional use applications, some coupled with façade changes.

 

This is a major policy change, not a just a tune-up to improve customer service. The continuity of design approach from residential to the other areas of the town can be lost, and the Planning Commission’s focus will be diluted from the important city-wide long-range issues.

 

We can solve a relatively minor coordination problem without changing the scope of work of our two major design and planning bodies.

 

Ann Christoph, a former mayor, is a landscape architect.

 

 

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Comments (1)

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  1. Are you suggesting that the community was better served by Laguna Lumber when they were closed for two weeks in the summer? And when they were closed on Saturdays? Get real… those fewer hours were NOT “oriented to the lifestyles of workers in a small town”. I’ll bet if you could track local business revenue, you’d find more generated on weekends than weekdays, due to our large proportion of retail and tourism industries. Do you suggest shutting down the whole town on Saturdays in line with your concept of worker “lifestyles”?

    Ganahl Lumber has brought many improvements and products compared to the old Laguna Lumber days, while still maintaining our small-town charm and feel. The employees are great, they participate more than ever in community events, and yes, they still get summer vacations, just not all at one time (what’s the benefit of that anyway?) I am very much in support of maintaining our small-town character, but Ganahl has not compromised that in any way.

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