Resident-driven ballot initiative targeting Laguna Beach development clears major hurdle

Laguna Beach City Clerk Ann Marie McKay (right) reviews ballot initiative signatures with Michael Morris, Laguna Residents First PAC founder emeritus, at Laguna Beach City Hall on Jan. 10. Photo by Mitch Ridder

A ballot initiative aimed at curbing major development has more than enough valid signatures from Laguna Beach residents to qualify for a vote, the Orange County Registrar of Voters wrote in a letter Thursday.

The Laguna Beach City Council must now decide whether to adopt the proposed city law, hold a special election, or consolidate with the June 7 primary election or Nov. 8 general election. This discussion will come before the City Council on Feb. 15, City Clerk Ann Marie McKay said.

Certification of signatures supporting the Laguna Residents First PAC ballot initiative adds another wrinkle to what is anticipated to be a dynamic election season with three city council seats in play.

Laguna Residents First PAC filed 2,659 supportive signatures of registered Laguna Beach voters with McKay on Jan. 10. To qualify for the ballot, volunteers had to collect signatures from 1,835 voters, equal to at least 10% of Laguna Beach’s voting pool.

McKay asked the Registrar to determine at least 2,000 signatures were valid. Registrar staffers recorded 2,001 valid signatures, according to the certificate signed by Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.

“This ballot initiative keeps the height limits and on-site parking requirements the same as what’s in effect now,” Laguna Residents First co-founder David Raber said in a press release Tuesday. “Setting reasonable standards for development will continue what residents and visitors love most about Laguna: a vibrant village with unique buildings instead of block-long, oversized projects.”

A previous effort by Laguna Residents First to collect signatures was stalled last Spring due to the pandemic. The initiative’s supporters argue voter approval is necessary as a bulwark against overdevelopment and gridlock that could affect residents’ property values and their quality of life, Anderson said.

Voter approval would be required for major developments that combine lots totaling more than 7,500 square feet, create at least 200 additional average daily vehicle trips, exceeds 30-feet in height, or contain more than 22,000 square in floor area. The initiative’s scope is also limited to proposed major developments within 750 feet of Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon Road.

Renderings submitted to the city show the potential design of the 116-room Museum Hotel. The proposed project along South Coast Highway between Cliff Drive and Jasmine Street would likely trigger a vote under the requirements of the ballot initiative, a city consultant said in January. Image courtesy of Laguna Creative Ventures

Single-family home remodels and multi-family projects of nine or fewer residential units are explicitly excluded from the initiative and wouldn’t be subjected to such votes. Denser housing projects of exclusively low-income to extremely low-income housing residential units would also be exempt.

Despite these exemptions, the initiative’s opponents say it would create an additional layer of bureaucracy that would stymie investment in deteriorating properties in a coastal town that already has multiple layers of review.

Laguna Beach wouldn’t be the first Orange County city to apply brakes on real estate development. Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Dana Point have passed similar so-called “Greenlight” initiatives. In 2000, Newport Beach voters approved a right-to-vote initiative to block new high-rise towers.

The principals behind Laguna Residents First are fixtures in the City Council Chambers who often argue against intense development. Treasurer Gene Felder is president of the Top of the World Neighborhood Association and also serves as treasurer for the Laguna Canyon
Conservancy. Anderson is also vice president of Village Laguna. David Raber has been active in the Temple Hills Community Association and served on the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force.

Councilmember George Weiss and Laguna Beach resident Michael Morris are both founders emeriti of Laguna Residents First.

City Manager Shohreh Dupuis declined to comment for this story.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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  1. This is the town that banned fishing in the ocean, right?
    So, why not ban any development they don’t like to ruin the future.

  2. Even though Sam Goldstein says we are a “dying, decaying, totally fragmented city right now with most of our businesses closed” the consultant says that business sales and bed taxes have doubled over the last 10 years, and projects those taxes will continue to grow at a rate of 6% every year to 2032. That’s with the initiative being law.

  3. 2,001 valid signatures? So they had over 650 invalid ones? This whole situation is truly unfortunate. How many of those voters were coerced into signing? I overheard many of the lies that the signature collectors were saying in order to convince residents that the sky was falling. The Felders in particular were saying some crazy things, especially about the Honarkers, in order to attract people. This is once again an attempt by a loud minority to control the future of this community. I am growing sick of all the drama being brought forth by a small collective of bitter residents that continue to complain about ever little thing. Truthfully, it seems they have also hijacked the Independent. Week after week I read columns and LTEs from the same group of people attempting to reinforce their authoritarian agenda.

  4. IMO – the Laguna Beach City Council should adopt now or place on the Nov. 8 general election when we also get to vote to fill three council seats. No special elections are necessary.

    Agree that this situation is truly unfortunate. It’s the result of the Liberate Laguna Forward PAC Developers and their efforts to tip the scales since 2018 to buy city council positions, stack our boards and commissions and ultimately shut out residents voices.

    I ask voters to read the initiative themselves and contact the LRF representatives with questions and concerns. Think for yourself and don’t waste time or listen to fact-less comments. This is the feedback I have received from satisfied residents of other cities who adopted similar initiatives. They have not looked back and the scare tactics used never materialized. I personally see it as a way for Laguna to keep a handle on the potential runaway intensifications of our city and our resources which we will never be able to absorb or get out from under if they are allowed to happen.

    To City Council members – a substantial number of your constituents have spoken by signing this petition. Please listen. Thank you.


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