Design Review Board Elects New Leaders

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Louis Weil is the incoming chair of the Design Review Board. Courtesy of Louis Weil

The Design Review Board continued its recent shake-up by electing a Laguna Beach Realtor as its next chairperson.

Berkshire Hathaway agent Louis Weil, who was appointed to the board about a year ago by the Laguna Beach City Council, was elected by fellow board members as their chairperson on May 1. For its vice-chair, the board elected Debbie Neev, a geophysical engineer who worked in the oil and gas industry and has served as a commissioner for the Laguna Beach County Water District since 2002.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, councilmembers signaled their interest in reforming the design review process to address residents’ complaints that it’s too onerous and time-consuming. For example, council members were willing to let city staffers approve minor home improvements such as installing air-conditioning units, rather than forcing a public hearing on these matters.

When asked why he would volunteer to oversee meetings that have devolved into bickering matches between neighbors, Weil said it was a chance for him to represent a younger generation that wants to get involved in the city governance.

“I think it’s a neat opportunity with a change of new volunteers who have been inspired by the council,” Weil said.

After living in Laguna Beach for about 11 years, Weil’s interest in the Design Review Board is colored by his experience of hiring an architect to apply for permits he needed to remodel his home.

“It brought up a lot of unnecessary challenges that made it more difficult for myself and for my neighbors,” Weil said. “It got a lot of people more worked up than needed.”

As the chairperson, Weil said his goal is to keep board members’ discussion focused and constructive.

“Making sure board members, neighbors, and applicants have their voices heard is what the process is supposed to be,” he said.

Weil will lead a board charged with looking at architectural design documents but doesn’t have a licensed architect among its ranks.

Current board members also include Kristine Thalman, a former CEO of the Building Industry Association of Orange County; Compass Realtor Jessica Gannon, and Laguna Beach resident Don Sheridan.

Laguna Beach Architect Todd Skenderian said a board member does not need to be a design professional in order to be effective. It’s more important for members to be familiar with the city’s design review guidelines and refer to them often.

“Historically in town, we’ve had some really good board members that were not design professionals, and what made them effective, was their understanding of the design guidelines, their ability to provide clear and consistent direction to the applicant, and their ability to balance neighbor concerns with applicant needs,” Skenderian said in a statement.

Weil thanked his successor, Meg Monahan, for her years of volunteering on the Design Review Board.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Design Review Board are all a bunch of hacks promoting their own personal agendas. They approved a project that overshadows my neighbor’s yard and blocks the CENTER of my ocean view. They all agreed at the end of the meeting after approving the remodel “that view equity had been met”. When I asked how has view equity been met when the project BLOCKS the only view I have, I never received an answer.

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