Laguna Beach is a city filled with some of the warmest, most caring people in the world. We selflessly give our time, talent and treasure to all types of causes from the arts, the environment, our schools and countless humanitarian projects. Unfortunately, there is a part of life in Laguna Beach that does not reflect the best of who we are, and it is a process we must fix. That is the arbitrary, maddening and endless process of seeking approval to improve property.
Every City Council member agrees the process needs improvement and on July 9, we were introduced to the first phase of reform. In reading the staff report, anticipating bold and meaningful changes, we were met with actions that are at best de minimis or as some put it that night, “putting lipstick on a pig.” What the staff report truly reflects is a City Council who told staff that they needed to streamline the DRB process but gave them little direction, and we are left with little change. I have issued thousands of building permits and I have applied for many thousand more; nothing approved July 9 is going to make the process of getting a building permit faster in Laguna Beach.
Our Director of Community Development stated that there will be a second phase of this streamlining process. Hopefully, the next steps will be bold and address: the arcane submission process, the expansive public noticing, the vitriolic public comments, the weaponization of CEQA and the length of time to get a permit. They need to address how our current process can only be taken on by the extremely wealthy. They need to solve why it is impossible to develop housing for artists, our young teachers, students, and 98 percent of the people who work for us in the city.
If staff and Council cannot fix these problems, we need to demand real change, like establishing Architectural/Landscape Design guidelines for the city that will define what “village atmosphere” means and eliminate the Design Review Board for residential construction under 3,500 square feet. These are actions that will speed up the process.
We deserve a reliable, predicable and fair development approval process in Laguna Beach with reasonable approval timelines. Not only will it improve our property values, it will improve our quality of life with our fellow neighbors. Anything less is not who we are.
John Gabbard, Laguna Beach