Guest Opinion: How About That Initiative?

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Michael Ray

People keep asking me to comment on the no-growth initiative, Measure Q. So, I will. It will stop anything new from happening in Laguna and the town would (further) rot. 

You think retail vacancies are high now? Measure Q would make them skyrocket. 

Because that is what it does. The initiative’s tripwires are so restrictive and all-reaching that even a new coffee bar at a place like The Lumberyard would be stopped cold. To obtain approval, the owner would be required to submit the coffee bar to a vote of all the citizens of Laguna in a special election. That election would cost $100,000+, paid for by the proposer.  

Would you spend $100,000 for voter approval for a coffee bar? Duh, of course not. You would take your idea to Irvine, Newport, Tustin or Rancho Santa Margarita—some other place. You don’t need Laguna. It is a simple economic choice. 

That is what the Measure Q, as created by Laguna Residents First (LRF), would do: stop cold any new commercial enterprise. Stop cold any remodels any upgrades, any new tenants, anything new of any kind. It will stop them dead in their tracks.

Measure Q is an outgrowth of the prevailing sentiment emanating from Village Laguna (VL), a Political Action Committee, that controlled this town for more than 30 years and stifled anything new. However, in the 2018 elections, VL candidates lost control of the majority on the City Council, did not regain it in the 2020 elections, and some sanity has returned to this town. 

Village Laguna hates—hates—-its loss of control, and like as modern-day Terminator, has risen out of the ashes to back Measure Q under the rubric that Laguna’s “citizens” should vote on anything new. During their thirty-year rule, such niceties were not considered necessary because, ah, ahh…because they were in control.

To justify their support, they promote The Big Lie that high-rise developers are poised to destroy Laguna—turn it into a type of Huntington Beach hell—and Measure Q is the only thing standing between our quaint town and their Big Lie.

Here is the truth. There are zero high-rise developments proposed for Laguna, and zero possibility any could be built. No one wants it. No one. 

As a political position, it is a Paper Tiger: a cure for a problem that does not exist, kind of like the medieval practice of bleeding patients to cure a fever.  

It is also like the VL’s parallel Paper Tiger argument that new tenants are discouraged by high rents charged by greedy landlords. Give me a break. Our landlords are no less greedy than landlords in surrounding cities, whose rents are just as high. Our buildings are vacant because after Village Laguna spent thirty years enacting every more restrictive impediments for new tenants, hardly any new tenants want to run the gamut. But Village Laguna says it is not their fault. It is greedy landlords. Hogwash.

Measure Q is simply the latest action, a last gasp, to strangle the town that artists made famous. It is not needed and is pushed by the Big Lie. I would say to all those Measure Q supporters, who are extremely noisy on letters to the editors and local social media: go away. Leave us be.  

Ray is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer emeritus of Laguna Forward PAC. 

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Unfortunately this column is more of the same. Misrepresentation, misinterpretation, half-truths and outright falsehoods; thick and fast. Both about the nature of Measure Q, and about Village Laguna (a favorite whipping post for this opinionist). IMO, readers simply need to know that Mr Ray was a founder and major donor to Liberate Laguna PAC, which morphed into Laguna Forward PAC (of which he now is founder emeritus) which is now a major funder of “Citizens for Lagunas Future” PAC. His 2018 reportable donations to LL were $22,000 and he has consistently been very generous. On his FPPC financial disclosures he has alternately described his employment as “developer”, “real estate developer”, “retired”, and “Owner” (of Sanderson J. Ray Development). I’ll let the reader determine for themselves how to interpret Mr. Ray’s column in light of this.

  2. This alarmist rhetoric that businesses will leave is the same tired claim made by other coastal cities which passed initiatives giving their residents the right to vote. These claims never materialized in Newport Beach, which passed Greenlight 22 years ago. Laguna is a highly desirable place to do business. That’s why business tax revenues have gone up for the last 10 years according to the city’s own report. It’s why new businesses continue to open all over the city. Perhaps too it’s because the city is giving away parking for other uses in our downtown commercial district, knowing that the Coastal Commission will require replacement of all those spaces sitting under tables. The city leases 208 spaces, some for as little as $55 a month. Why is the city council giving away our parking and who ultimately pays? Residents who can’t park in their own downtown, all so developers like the author and landlords can get rich.

  3. In Ray’s world, facts don’t matter in the pursuit of more real estate profits. Measure Q is by and for residents and has been vetted by lawyers and various professionals. Residents are sick and tired of commercial establishments opening up with inadequate parking, which forces the parking into residential areas. The City has also gifted many developers with height variances. Ray and his developer Cabal have followed a “death by a thousand cuts” approach to carving up Laguna Beach for added profits. The dreaded Museum hotel is waiting in the wings for approval by a solid 3-2 vote in City Council. Any ordinance — even the new one — can be overturned by a 3-2 vote. Developers have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into city elections and eagerly await their return on investment. Measure Q puts the Museum Hotel and other out-sized developments to a vote.

  4. When it comes to “alarmist rhetoric,” the people behind Measure Q are without equal. The only way Measure Q will pass is if their fearmongering succeeds. But if voters take the time to study Measure Q, if they look around at the town, if they reject the divisive rhetoric that insists that only “they” cares about keeping Laguna Laguna, they will not be fooled and they will Vote No on Q.

  5. Common Sense ! The choice is stagnant or invigorate! The core group behind this initiative is the same group suing the city over the approval project on Hawthorne Road, the Historic Preservation Ordinance Update and the downtown specific plan! NIMBY at its best! They got theirs and they what to restrict other property owners the ability to improve theirs! Go to Lagunaneighbors.org to see the extreme actions this group will go to. The Kirby’s (Hawthorne Road) ongoing nightmare of appeal after appeal to an approved project. Educate yourself & vote your conscience!

  6. Personally, I never thought that Measure Q would be approved.
    But really folks, you’re being misled and perhaps intentionally so—-it’s not that complex a document, well, unless you’re intellectually challenged with ADD or illiterate, lazy, etc.
    It did, however, alarm/freak out the City and although not admitted, force staff and Council majority into circling the wagons, signal band-aid approach bridge devices/ordinance modifications, at least until November.
    City Hall won’t tell you that, but it got them uptight and anxious regardless, jeopardized the status quo. Not to mention their jobs in City administration.
    For those in the middle, like myself, I still haven’t seen who exactly is going to get out the super glue and put this berg back together in December when the new Council convenes and the warring factions/initiatives have been determined.
    I call us “Humpty-Dumpty Land,” in my 50 years I’ve never seen the City so fractured and venomously divided—The Treasure Island/mobile home conversion site the only similar issue of note otherwise.
    It pales in comparison to this one.
    Was there always this meanness lurking beneath the surface?
    I’m no “Peace Love Dove” dude myself, was a confrontational community activist for many years, but the wide swath, the City-wide systemic tone in these pages is totally harsh and divisive.
    Set up as a ZERO SUM game, regardless, whatever Laguna was, we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.
    Welcome to our Brave New World, filled with marketing gimmicks and crafty re-branding widgets, brought to you by those who exclaim to us how much they love Laguna.
    Like Vietnam, many seem hell bent on destroying it to save it.
    As William Blake wrote about such antitheses and disputes: “The vision of the Divine that thou does see is my greatest enemy.”

  7. Found this Ray statement hilarious. ” I would say to all those Measure Q supporters, who are extremely noisy on letters to the editors and local social media: go away. Leave us be.”

    Mr. Ray…this describes you, with one correction “Measure Q opposition.”

    IMO, Indy readers have been subjected to your developer-biased-agenda filled with misinformation and hatred of Village Laguna and Laguna Residents First in your negative opinion columns for way to long. Please take your own advice. Go away. Leave us be. Thanks.

  8. Feels a lot like “Us & Them” by Pink Floyd, from their Dark Side of the Moon album.
    So many here feign sovereign fealty to Laguna, but are in reality sunshine solders, summer patriots who’ve actually never been in a real physical confrontation, lives on the line. Just posturing and posing.
    “To know war is to know that there is still madness in this world.” LBJ
    Look for the Council in December to be more rife with pro-development members and Q to go down in flames—-and for more ramped up bitterness and acrimony.
    The dream is over.

  9. One must note that of the letters damning my column, not one disputes that even a tiny, tiny new retail store will violate Q’s tripwires and require a Special Election of the entire city, which will cost about $100,000, paid by the applicant.

  10. Okay–Disputed, Mr. Ray. 22,000 square feet is a tiny, tiny new retail store? Or, even the size of a fire station? Nope, the 22,000 square feet trip wire on Measure Q is bigger than even LA’s fire station gross floor space and is much bigger than most retail stores. Measure Q specifies that only gross floor space can be used in the measurement–not a garage, not a parking lot, parking spaces, etc. Please, please read Measure Q, and don’t be bamboozled by scare tactics by those eager to make money off of jumbo commercial projects.

  11. Some fun facts: Since 2017 to date there would have been 36 projects that would have to be voted on and get approval by a majority of Laguna’s 18,500 registered voters. That’s around 9300 voters needed to approve a project! NEVER going to happen! Cost to the 36 applicants, (including city projects)? Close to four million dollars! Deal breaker! Delays to entitlements? Up to 2 years! Deal breaker. Uncertain outcomes? Deal breaker! Cumulative affect? Deal breaker! Lets deal with facts about measure Q. It is a deal breaker for Laguna Beach! NO ON Q!

  12. Facts are fun, so please list the 36 large commercial projects that would have needed to be voted on per Measure Q’s specifications since 2017, keeping in mind that only GROSS floor space is counted per Measure Q’s clauses (clauses that are copy and pasted from Laguna’s previous zoning specifications). It’s easy to make claims, but evidence is so much more persuasive as facts, right? As for the 9300 voters needed to approve a project—where did that number originate? Even our City Attorney has now verified that “voters” and “electorate” are used as synonyms (like “man” and “male”) in CA’s Constitution and other passed Ballot Measures. Elections in our State, as well as in our City, are won by a majority of votes, regardless of how many people voted in town.

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