Laguna Canyon Artist Housing Survives Appeal

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach City Council denied an appeal of a 28-unit artist live/work project planned for Laguna Canyon and allowed it to move forward on Tuesday, arguing the Planning Commission properly concluded that the project’s permits didn’t expire as its opponents claim.

The vote 4-1 vote, Councilwoman Toni Iseman opposed, came after 11 p.m. following extensive debate by both sides over whether a deadline clock stopped ticking until the California Coastal Commission approved the project’s coastal development permit on Aug. 9, 2017.

Friends of the Laguna Canyon, an unincorporated association of advocates for the Canyon’s rural character and natural resources, has argued that the conditional use permit and design review approval for the project at 20412 and 20432 Laguna Canyon Road lapsed on April 3, 2018. Julie Hamilton, an attorney for Friends of Laguna Canyon, said Wednesday she was disappointed with the City Council’s interpretation of the Municipal Code.

“This project is not good,” she said. “It sets a precedent for high density in the Canyon. It’s something that is inappropriate based on the natural resources, rural character, and traffic in the Canyon.”

Property owner and sculptor Louis Longi said it was impossible for him to move forward until he received his coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission last February.

“Our project meets all of the standards of the city, the ordinances, the setbacks, and everything, and it’s been stamped in concept and reviewed by Scott [Drapkin] and his department,” Longi said.

The project reserves eight units for low-income artists and one unit for moderate-income artists for 55 years. It also includes a 498 square-foot retail art gallery and 45-space parking garage.

Hamilton said Friends of the Canyon hasn’t made a determination about what its next step will be, but she does anticipate further legal action. Three lawsuits over this project have been filed in the last four years, Longi’s attorney Jeffrey Harlan said.

“I think it’s important for folks to understand that the people who I have worked with since 2016 don’t enjoy this battle,” Hamilton said. “The majority don’t live in the canyon and the only reason they’re involved is they truly care about their community.”

Friends of the Canyon is supported by a host of nongovernmental organizations including the Laguna Canyon Conservancy; Clean Water Now; Laguna Canyon Foundation; Laguna Greenbelt; Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks; and Orange County Coastkeeper, said resident Jackie Gallagher. The Association used the “effective date” of an affidavit signed by Longi on April 3, 2014, as the crux of its latest legal argument that his conditional use permit and design review approval expired.

Laguna Canyon residents say they’re concerned that a 36-foot-tall building setback 10 feet from the Laguna Canyon Creek will signal to other developers that high-density housing is welcome in their neighborhood.

Lily Albritton, daughter of John Albritton of the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Association, cried at the podium Tuesday as she recalled memories of playing in the creek and eating fruit from a Kumquat tree with her childhood friends.

“How can anyone possibly think that building an apartment complex on this delicate ecosystem makes any sense?” she said. “This process has been going on for six years and I’ve spent a third of my life watching my dad and neighborhood fight for this cause.”

The Laguna Canyon Annexation Specific Plan was intended to preserve the rural, low-density housing and light manufacturing uses that have historically populated the gateway to Laguna Beach. This vision has been called into the question by the election of Councilman Peter Blake, who prioritized streamlining the city’s process for reviewing new housing projects.

The Art Gallery owner appeared floored that a project already approved by the Planning Commission, City Council, and Coastal Commission continues to be obstructed by environmental and neighborhood advocates.

“This is a clear indication of everything that is wrong with this community,” Blake said. “This has been 10 years of dirty tricks, legal maneuvers, and I hope we’re seeing an end to this. A year or two from now I want people to be making art in this building. I want the Canyon to become a place where we can start building affordable housing for our elders, our artists and our millennials coming home. It’s going to the change just like everything else does in this community.”

Following the City Council’s decision Tuesday, Longi has until Aug. 9, 2019 to obtain a building permit from the city or get another extension from the Planning Commission.

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  1. YAY!!! it’s almost surreal that there are people with backbones standing up for common sense against the communists who ruined laguna

  2. Not sure who BD is, but you’ve definitely massaged, actually lied regarding the chronology/timeline facts:
    Initially, it was my NGO, CLEAN WATER NOW (founded in 1998), at the request of Dr. John Hamil and the Canyon Property Owners who intervened….former VL Board member Jackie Gallagher couldn’t get them to commit until the oppositional group had constellated.
    I invited Dr, Hamil to attend, we had a vibrant onsite meeting with the developers (Dornin & Longi), architect Horst, then Planning Commissioner Linda Dietrich et al.
    The Property Owners subsequently hired me (I’m a professional land use & regulatory compliance analyst who specializes in riparian and aquatic habitats), and I’m proud to say that a lot of my crucial product has been used in the opposition camp subsequently.
    I helped, including that 1st Coastal Commission appellate hearing in Santa Monica—where CWN had our own Designated Party status presentation niche carved out time wise.
    I agreed to work for 1/2 of my usual fees, plus volunteered a lot more time (uncompensated) once it began bouncing around in Superior Court..
    Why VL wants to take credit is beyond me—they were “Johnny Come Latelys” at best. I see why so many resent them: They seem oblivious to other’s engagement/efforts, they didn’t invent environmentalism.
    To the best of my knowledge, CWN was the 1st eco-protection NGO to defend the Canyon folks—–If the CANDO organization folks are 100% candid, I was a significant volunteer in the formation phase of that group too. I still have photos taken by Ricardo Duffy, me standing in Karl & Marcia Klass’s backyard, giving a protection boot camp presentation—-I’ve done this several times over my 21 year history, volunteered/recruited to be an architect of these grass roots efforts.
    Those are historical facts: A simple online search of Planning Commission, City Council, Coastal Commission and courtroom pleading archives proves that myself & CWN were significant players—To the point where I began getting harassed, threats of litigation from Longi & Dornin’s attorneys.
    Shame on BD for trying to take credit for other’s work……..Initially hesitant and reticent, the parade was already forgmedwhen VL came aboard.

  3. Roger E Butow . . . people like you have ruined this town regulating everything you think is your personal noble cause at the expense of the rest of us who want GROWTH . . . get a real job, and stay out of our lives.. which banned plastic bags and straws, fishing in the ocean, and building homes TO LIVE IN

  4. Correction: Roger Butow deserves all the credit for wasting time, money and resources to fight against artists housing.

  5. Let’s see 30 units and 47 cars. 30 units and 47 cars. Yeah this is low-income housing for students and artists 1/3 mile from LCAD right? 30 units and 47 cars. Like the Parklett, great in concept, wrong in execution.


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