More Land Adds New Wrinkle to Entrance Debate


Council moves ahead with housing priorities, flood channel improvements

Adding a new twist to the controversial village entrance proposal, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson announced at the City Council meeting Tuesday the city’s plan to buy nearby property for $5.3 million, which potentially could change the project significantly.

Council member Steve Dicterow called the news “a game changer on the village entrance.”

In other matters, the Council moved to press for improving senior housing options locally as part of a state-mandated update to the housing element in the city’s general plan. In addition, the Council agreed to a joint Caltrans project to reconstruct portions of the flood channel under South Coast Highway, appointed two members to the Design Review Board, and conditionally agreed to lift a limit on the number of musicians allowed to perform at Mozambique on weeknights.

Separately, detective Larry Bammer, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Association, announced a collaboration among the city’s public safety departments, who have volunteered to raise $50,000 needed for a Heisler Park memorial to honor in-line deaths by pubic safety personnel. The idea grew out of the recent tragic death of Laguna Beach police Officer Jon Coutchie.

Bammer said the city’s Arts Commission agreed to organize a competitive design process.

The city’s pending land purchase, sandwiched between Tivoli Too! and the city’s current parking lot, still requires council approval. Even so, Pearson said the property allows flexibility for the project under consideration for a park and a parking garage behind City Hall.

The site could potentially accommodate 65-75 parking spaces that could be removed from the village entrance site to make more room for beautification, Pearson later confirmed. The two-parcel site totals 3.8 acres, City Manager John Pietig said.

In a related matter, Pietig responded to published comments in the Indy and Coastline Pilot that questioned the city’s claim that parking spaces removed from the village entrance site must be replaced.

Community Development Director John Montgomery noted that Coastal Commission staff expressed concern about the potential loss of public parking spaces. Policies in the city’s land use element, a component of the local coastal program, require replacement of parking spaces on a one-for-one basis when approving changes in intensity of land use downtown, Montgomery said.

What’s more, when the Coastal Commission granted a coastal development permit for relocating the city’s corporate yard to ACT V in Laguna Canyon, a condition required that the city provide 190 public parking spaces at the proposed village entrance site. Any changes to that condition would require an amendment to the permit.

The Council tentatively agreed to a public workshop on the village entrance on Tuesday, Nov. 12. Dicterow voiced a preference that the Council members sit with participants rather than on the dais, and Council member Toni Iseman requested that the workshop be televised.

The Council unanimously approved the Planning Commission’s draft update to the housing element of the city’s general plan, which included a number of suggested programs and placed high priority on senior housing and residential care homes. Notably, the Council approved the formation of a task force to investigate current senior housing options, to evaluate what’s missing and explore potential sites for new facilities and funding.

At least two low-income senior housing facilities, including the Aliso Vista property near Lang Park, will revert to regular pricing over the next 15 years and will need to be replaced. “We need to create a pool of money that comes over time so that when these things come up, we have it there,” Pearson said. She also pushed for affordable housing for artists “since they are our heritage.”

Director of Public Works Steve May described an undersized and badly deteriorated flood channel from Beach Street to South Coast Highway, which needs to be rehabilitated as well as enlarged to prevent objects from lodging there during floods and lowering capacity. He also noted that the width of the channel varies widely from Beach to Coast Highway, which also slows the flow and should be more uniform.

May said the improvements he described could increase the capacity of the system by 30 percent, halve the frequency of floods downtown and reduce their severity. He said the city currently has $6.7 million in a capital improvement fund for channel improvements over the next four years.

Caltrans has agreed to contribute $1.4 million towards the portion of the channel under South Coast Highway, a roadway where the agency has jurisdiction, as long as the city supervises the project and agrees to the Caltrans pact, May said. The Council agreed to confirm their intent to honor the pact and to pursue a preliminary engineering report.

Before the night was out, the Council appointed incumbent member Caren Liuzzi and former member Leslie LeBon to the two open spaces on the Design Review Board.

The Council also approved a request from Mozambique restaurant to lift a restriction from their conditional use permit that limits live entertainment to a single musician Monday through Thursday. They agreed to remove that limitation for a trial period of six months.


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