Last week’s Planning Commission meeting was a humdinger to a packed house. Well, it started out as a humdinger and slowly descended into the depths of tedium.
The concept review of converting the closed dump formerly known as the Holiday Inn into a silk purse of a new hotel occupied three hours of commission time. A not unsubstantial portion of which was spent on commissioner’s lamentations that the process should be more efficient. This from the same commissioners that spent close to an hour at the opening of the public hearing asking staff questions that would best be asked and answered prior to the meeting.
The developers presented their concept, carefully explaining that they were only trying to artfully arrange 4 pounds into a 5-pound sac. That was followed by an endless line of neighbors responding that the developer was really trying to cram 50 pounds into an already overstretched 3-pound sac.
Then we heard the commissioners’ remarks. Well, actually more questions—20 minutes worth of more questions, questions with no answers. Then, we heard what the commissioners thought of the developer’s concept. It was four versions of knee-jerk no.
Planning commissions are supposed to function as a community’s deep thinkers. Planning for the future while learning from the past and the present. That isn’t happening here.
The future is arriving in Laguna with the speed of a fast-moving locomotive’s windshield and the planning commission is a bug in the way. In really slow motion, you can see the bug’s antennas are just starting to crumble from initial contact with the glass.
Our commercial zones are over-ripe for redevelopment. Years of owner neglect, deferred maintenance of cheaply constructed commercial structures, and mismanagement have taken their toll. Our commercial sector has reached the end of its economic life. We’ve now got three dead hotels, one dead theater, and a bunch of dead shops, with more every day. The economic pressure continues to build.
We need answers like: How do we compute the size of a hotel? Is the number of rooms the way to do it? How many rooms must be low cost? How do we calculate the parking and traffic impacts? Are resident-serving businesses still important in the time of Amazon and big box stores?
None of us want to live in an overdeveloped Laguna. We also don’t want to live in a dump to do so.
J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.