By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach will pursue purchasing a nearly 6,300-square-foot parcel of land underneath the Laguna Beach Library from the County of Orange.
City officials are racing to beat a Jan. 20 deadline to exercise a purchase option detailed in a 1970 agreement with the county for construction of a library at Glenneyre Street and Laguna Avenue.
“There are several benefits to the city exercising the option to purchase the library,” Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson said. “First of all, the city would maintain control of the use of the property in perpetuity. The city would also acquire the parking lots, which could help increase parking availability in the downtown area.”
As of Jan. 1, the city inherited the responsibility of providing an office for the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.
In 1937, Laguna Beach acquired a piece of property from the Chamber that served as the original chamber office and library building, according to a staff report. As part of the acquisition, the city agreed to provide the Chamber with 450 square feet of office space, in perpetuity, as long as it remained an “active organization.”
At some point, this property came into the possession of Richard Burt and James Schmitz, according to a county memo. In 1970, the county purchased the property from Burt and Schmitz for $80,000 to build the existing library and agreed to shoulder housing the Chamber for 50 years.
In light of this requirement, the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve a $1,484 month-to-month lease agreement with the county to provide office space for the Chamber at the library. The Chamber isn’t required to pay rent, but will need to carry a $1 million liability insurance policy, plus worker’s compensation insurance.
“It doesn’t really matter who our ultimate landlord is as long as our agreement is enforced,” chamber executive director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold wrote in an email. “That being said, I think it would be great to have this piece of real estate back in Laguna’s hands.”
The Council also voted to appropriate $20,000 for various activities required of the acquisition process, such as getting an appraisal, preparing a Phase 1 environmental assessment, and preparing a structural assessment report.
City staff said the county will be preparing their own appraisal for the library parcels, and a purchase and sale agreement will be prepared for the City Council’s consideration in open session, along with the city manager’s recommendation on how to fund the acquisition and ongoing maintenance of the building.
Laguna Beach resident Michael Morris said it appears Laguna Beach doesn’t have a clear understanding of the 1937 deed covenant providing for the Chamber’s office space and how that passed from one property owner to another over the decades.
“I’m really uncomfortable going forward and assuming that we have to continue to provide this largesse to a private organization when we don’t really have the paper trail to determine that it is in fact still in effect,” Morris said.