Laguna Beach Planning Commission appointments maintain status quo as housing decision nears

Signs outside Laguna Beach City Hall direct visitors to check-in at the Council Chambers amid a COVID-19 case surge. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Two incumbents were reappointed to the Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Tuesday, signaling councilmembers’ confidence in the panel ahead of discussion on a critical housing plan later this summer.

Chairperson Susan McLintock Whitin and Commissioner Steve Goldman were unanimously approved for another two-year term. In February, the City Council also reappointed commissioners Jorg Dubin and Ken Sadler; Steve Kellenberg was added to the Commission at that time following the retirement of long-time Commissioner Anne Johnson.

An urban designer and landscape architect, Whitin is a seasoned commissioner who helped shepherd the Downtown Specific Plan through the review process.

“I want to preserve the best part of Laguna but I also want the city to evolve in an appropriate way,” Whitin said.

The Planning Commission’s work on consequential documents like the Housing and Safety elements of the General Plan has been very interesting and satisfying, Whitin said. She’s looking forward to continue digging into these policy issues.

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf, a former planning commissioner, said Wednesday that Whitin’s professional experience continues to be an asset for Laguna Beach.

“When I served with her I found her to be extremely thorough,” Kempf said. “The learning curve of a planning commissioner is not insignificant. So because of her background, she’s very well suited for that.”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Goldman said he applied for the Commission two years ago without an agenda. But his career as a hotel industry executive warranted questions for residents wary of developer proposals for new Laguna Beach hotels.

“I told you that I would approach everything with a business rationale and use judgment that I had learned in years of business — CEO of three companies and ran international development for three global hotel companies,” Goldman said. “So looking back over two years, I think I did what I said I would do.”

Both Goldman and Whitin have voted to support applications for remodeling several landmarks, including the Coast Inn, Coast Liquor, and Laguna South Coast Cinemas. The two projects at South Coast Highway and Mountain Road were opposed by neighbors who argued intensifying the use without adding onsite parking would add to the traffic congestion and street parking shortage.

Within the last year, the Planning Commission has also supported easing regulations on property owners interested in creating wildfire fuel modification zones to stop blazes from burning up to their homes.

Goldman brings an understanding of how to evaluate a major project’s scale, appropriateness, and design, Kempf said.

“He’s not a huge talker. He doesn’t sit up there to listen to himself talk. I think his vision for the town, he’s pro-thoughtful development,” Kempf said.

Village Laguna also offered a positive review of Goldman and Whitin’s efforts for the Planning Commission.

“We appreciate their expertise and conscientious service,” Village Laguna President Anne Caenn wrote in an email Wednesday.
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  1. Let’s look at the track record shall we? From the LB city website our General Plan reveals:

    LB DSP last Amended 2008
    LB Land Use Element last Amended 2012
    LB Circulation Element last Amended 1999
    LB Enhanced Mobility and Complete Streets Transition Plan 2014 (not adopted)

    Yep I’d say that remains status quo alright. But hey our City Manager got a RAISE!


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