By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
In the wake of her unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Laguna Beach City Council, artist Allison Mathews coordinated the first meeting Monday, Dec. 3, of a new Citizens Committee that aims to find solutions to perennial problems of affordable housing, homelessness, and traffic.
About 12 people participated in the Citizens Committee, which isn’t a city-sanctioned panel, at the Susi Q Center, where Mathews said her dissatisfaction with the current arrangement of City Council meetings motivated her to start the committee. Namely, she’s unhappy that residents are cut off from speaking during public comment at three minutes by a loud buzzer and that council members can decline to respond to questions and concerns.
Mathews was also interested in restoring some civility to the public discussion, which often boils out control on social media sites such as Nextdoor.
“There is so much nastiness on Nextdoor and you get these people together once face to face and everyone is civilized, working as a team, and this is the best way to get everything done,” Mathews said.
Among the topics discussed by the committee were improving late-night security for the homeless at the Alternative Sleeping Location Center, loosening parking requirements on developers who want to build lofts above downtown businesses, and changing the Municipal Code to create affordable housing in the form of boarding houses with shared kitchens and bathrooms.
Mathews also expressed frustration that some of the chronically homeless were brought to Laguna Beach as residents of sober-living homes who either walked away or were thrown out after their health insurance plan stopped paying. Ideally, all of the homes would be overseen or monitored by a hospital to make sure patients are truly getting the help they need, she said.
Attendees of the first Citizens Committee appeared to agree that its first goal should be to lobby the City Council to fix inconsistencies in the General Plan, Downtown Specific Plan, Strategic Plan and Zoning Code that hamper new downtown residential and commercial development.
“It seems to me if the city is not in compliance with state requirements that they update the General Plan every 10 years, that’s a place to start,” Laguna Beach resident Dan Carracino said.
In 2012, the Laguna Beach City Council approved the latest update of its General Plan’s Land Use Element, which among other things identifies how it will participate in the region’s need for low- and moderate-income housing. The same year, City Council approved the Land Use Element, which aims to preserve Laguna Beach’s picturesque open spaces and village character of a pedestrian-friendly streetscape without multistory buildings.
Karen Martin, a member of the Affordable Housing Task Force, said that despite approving the Housing and Land Use Elements, the city has not completed a comprehensive update of the General Plan since the 1980s. She added that this runs afoul of state requirements that the cities’ General Plans and Zoning Codes work together, be integrated, and internally consistent.
Painter said the only way these changes are going to happen is if residents like those at the Citizens Committee make their priorities known to the City Council.
“If there are City Council members that are for this, they’re actually insulated by a constituency that supports their efforts as well,” she said.
Hasty Honarkar, vice president of Laguna Creative Ventures, and her sister Nikki Bostwick were among the attendees of the Citizens’ Committee. Both are the daughters of local real estate investor Mo Honarkar who owns the Royal Hawaiian, the Hive at 845 Laguna Canyon Road, and other Laguna Beach commercial properties.
“A lot of the changes that were put forth were done a few decades ago to prevent growth and prevent progression and development and that’s why we are where we are right now,” Honarkar said.
Millennials are looking for smaller, affordable lofts where they can walk or bike to local restaurants and coffee shops, but Laguna Beach’s outdated building requirements are preventing property owners from pursuing this kind of development, she added.
“I think for a lot of millennials and different generations, that’s a lifestyle we’ve really gravitated towards,” Honarkar said. “We don’t really use a lot of the space in our homes and we can’t afford to have a lot of square footage, but being able to have a location where you sleep and have a quick meal works. You really spend most of your time supporting businesses and going to the local coffee shop.”
A time and location for the next Citizens Committee meeting has not yet been set, Mathews said. For more information, contact [email protected].