City Council Mulls “Creative Destruction”

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As a prologue, to the City Council’s regular convening on Tuesday Sept. 22., the council met in a joint learning session with the Arts Commission to hear updates as well as provide insight and opinion on the city’s Cultural Arts Plan.

The commission and council heard updates on the ongoing process from the consulting team Cultural Planning Group, which is handling the creation of the deliverable. Currently, the initial engagement phase is underway with outreach to stakeholders including: the council, city staff, artists, organizations and festivals, patrons and community leaders. Over 160 interviews have been conducted with strong emphasis by respondents to “revitalize the art identity and content of the city,” according to Cultural Planning Group presenter David Plettner-Saunders. This phase one undertaking will run into October with interested parties having the opportunity to provide their comments to an online survey by Monday, Oct. 5.

Following the information update, the presenting team asked attending parties both on the council and committee, as well as the public to provide thought leadership on two areas of importance; the arts future of Laguna Beach and the development of a cultural arts facility. On the former topic, “it is important that artists create their work here and live here,” said Councilmember Toni Iseman. Echoing that sentiment, Councilmember Zur Schmiede said “it was critical to have artists live and work in the community.”

The cultural arts facility discussion brought a passionate response from those present. “The facility would need to be flexible and can be so many things,” said Suzi Chauvel, a commission member. ”We should think first of this as a concept.”

Sam Goldstein, a co-creator of Laguna Beach Live, underscored the importance of a new facility. “We are caught in our own success, we need more space and our show could do more,” he said. Mayor Bob Whalen spoke of the importance of the facility by citing its ability to “create a new source of energy in the arts community.”

Next steps for the Cultural Arts Plan will be phase two, which will involve draft planning through the fall, and phase three, plan presentation early in 2016.

Demolition Derby

The City Council’s primary session ended the evening amidst a labyrinth of ordinances and esoteric language regarding two property sites, at which the owners had been levied fines and stays on construction due to unpermitted demolition on historic structures.

In the first case, Chris and Jessica Iovenko pleaded their case to have the council overturn the $100,000 fine and two year moratorium on construction at a single family dwelling on the city’s historic inventory list, at 274 Wave Street. In the appeal the Iovenkos cited that their intent was never to demolish the site, but to restore and preserve. “We are sorry that this has happened, but we want to rebuild and maintain the historical integrity of the structure”, Chris Iovenko said.

The council then heard unanimous praise from Iovenko neighbors attesting to the couple’s steadfast goal of preserving the historic structure. “They will improve the property and neighborhood,” said Barbara Ring. “Let Chris and Jessica move on,” said Jason Phillips. “As the site sits now there are countless problems, including it becoming a coyote campground.” Darrell Dudley, a six-year neighbor said “the property is in terrible shape, it is a hazard and an eyesore. The Iovenkos intended to restore the beauty of that place.”

The council was hamstrung by the city’s own language, which did not offer a clear way forward for the appellants. “We should not punish them, or the neighbors,” said Vice-Mayor Steve Dicterow. “There should be no fine or moratorium.” Mayor Whalen called the process “byzantine” and along with the council looked to City Manager John Pietig, and City Attorney Phil Kohn, for direction. In crafting a short-term solution, Pietig and Kohn stipulated that the only way for the appellants to move forward was to indemnify the city and assume the risk as they again went through the review process. “Do that and the red tape will come down,” said Pietig.

The second appeal of the evening concerned the same unpermitted demolition on a Laguna Beach City Historic Register list structure at 2515-2525 Laguna Canyon Road. The owners, Richard and Dan Upchurch represented by Tim Carlyle, looked to the council to overturn their $100,000 fine and five-year moratorium on construction. “The stay action and fine should not apply, because the planning commission’s interpretation on actions at the site were erroneous, said Carlyle.

Again the council deliberated the issues, bringing to the forefront such concepts as what constitutes a “major remodel” and what percentage of original housing materials must remain to ensure that a structure has not been deemed to have been demolished. The council did again agree to waive the penalties and stay, subject to further design review; however, in reaching that decision the council agreed on a larger principle. “There have been some unintended consequences from these historic preservation ordinances,” said Mayor Whalen. Concurring, Councilmember Iseman said we need to readdress the historical preservation standards. The city is doing it our way, but it is not getting what we want,” she said.

 

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