‘Charm Challenge’ beautification project aims to touch up downtown  


By Jackie Connor, Special to the Independent

In an effort to revitalize Laguna Beach’s downtown area, the city council voted 3-1 on Tuesday to implement a new beautification program that may waive up to $10,000 in community development fees per property and encourage building improvements over the next 12 months. 

The city’s “Charm Challenge,” aims to expedite permit reviews and support local businesses that are taking a step toward enhancing the city’s appeal. Clara Beard/LB Indy

The program, referred to as the city’s “Charm Challenge,” also aims to expedite permit reviews and support local businesses that are taking a step toward enhancing the city’s appeal. The City Council remains focused on 25-to-30 properties within downtown to make significant improvements.

“I think people want to maintain their buildings because they have a vested interest in them if they’re selling something out of them,” said Councilmember George Weiss. 

The amended ordinance will go into effect Sept. 1 and will be shared through a dedicated project webpage as well as standard mail letters to all businesses.

This past January, during its annual planning workshop, the City Council began developing a “beautification/property maintenance program” that would amend the city’s municipal code to define what constitutes a violation. This would ensure that commercial properties are upheld to a higher standard of cleanliness, safety and desirability to the public.

With Laguna Beach’s commercial properties varying in style and age, some buildings more than 50 years old, the ordinance specifies paint, signage, vegetation, debris and paved parking lots and sidewalks being a primary issue and ones that may be kept a closer eye on by city officials with consequences ranging from fines and citations. Code enforcement would inspect the property and provide a courtesy notice to the tenant and property owner and, give them the time to make improvements and then cite if the business is not compliant.

However, the City Council also aims to reward those who comply with the new ordinance via recognition and financial incentives, such as reimbursing business license fees for one year or potentially reimbursing or waiving community development fees. The priority will be dedicated to the first 25-to-30 properties located along Pacific Coast Highway and downtown. 

“It is in the best self-interest of retailers and the building owners who lease to retailers to make a positive impression on customers. So it’s mind-boggling when these businesses and building owners do not maintain their property as well, who are shooting themselves in their own feet…” said Laguna Beach resident John Thomas.

City staff suggested that the council consider the Parking and Business Improvement Area Law of 1989, which staff is researching further. However, this law addresses joint improvement areas and activities instead of private property maintenance and improvements. 

Councilmember Mark Orgill allowed certain incentives for some time to encourage compliance and pointed out the cost-prohibitive nature of requiring tenants and property owners to update paint color, experiencing blanket costs versus a tailored consideration based on storefront size.  

“I think notification is what we should start with, and then waiving the fees or grandfathering some fees for a certain time, to incentivize everybody to jump in and take advantage of it over, let’s say (nine months),” said Orgill to Councilmember Weiss, who wants tenants and property owners to take the initiative.

“When we step back, over-regulation is the problem of why we’ve gotten into this mess,” said Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi. “I think it’s ridiculous to have a committee basically tell you what color your building should be. I think that’s so antithetical to our creative nature as a community…this is a good policy, too, because I think a rising tide lifts all ships by getting some of these businesses by seeing that the city is committed to revitalizing our downtown.”

The ordinance will be adopted on July 1, with educational efforts starting in September through December. 

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