Letter: A Letter to Mayor Whalen

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I was happy to see that the council supported the Landscape and Scenic Highways documents in defining what the scope of work would be for the consultants on the downtown action plan.

But I was disappointed that the council didn’t support more public workshops during the “Action Plan” design process. We had an excellent task force working with the consultants on the first go-round of the Landscape and Scenic Highways plan in the early 1990s. The input of the task force shaped the plan in many meaningful ways, and many of the members contributed research and background information that contributed to the content of the plan.

While the city manager implied that the reason the second Landscape and Scenic Highways plan (2013-2018) took five years was because of the public input, that is not correct. There were only two public workshops at the very beginning of the project and there were no further public workshops until the first draft documents were released in 2017, except for review by the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee. What held up the process was staff review and their determination that the fire department and public works departments had to be satisfied before the document could go forward. There was no opportunity for public input on the issues the departments were raising all that time.  

I know you are concerned about lack of consensus on these decisions when projects come to the Council. One way to avoid that is to make the public more a part of the process beforehand.

Three minutes of public testimony at a Planning Commission hearing or Council meeting after a plan is nearly completed is not nearly has meaningful as having members of the public involved as the plan is being prepared.

In my experience, having public participation as plans are being developed is much preferred compared to having staff direct the work and then put the public in the position of disputing the final product. We want to work with staff collaboratively, but the public hearing process puts staff in the position of having to defend themselves and the public seeming to be petty complainers.

I am also concerned about the characterization of the Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force as being unsuccessful. It is unfortunate that after two meetings of the Task Force, the Council intervened and made confusing policy directives that restricted our work. The Task Force has been still meeting weekly. (We have another meeting Jan. 16.) We have achieved consensus on many aspects of the ordinance and the task force is working together well. I believe we could have done this on our whole initial scope of work if the Council had not interrupted our project before we were even organized.

Ann Christoph, Laguna Beach

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1 COMMENT

  1. Very thoughtful points. You are correct that the city appears to mismanage staff hours producing work that is later overwhelmingly rejected by a vast majority of the members of the public. Residents do prefer being included and given the opportunity for community participation to allow our many local talented volunteers to work directly with the city staff to assure the city remains in touch with the needs and desires of its residents.
    Elected officials must be continually reminded they are public servants.
    Residents would benefit from Town Hall Meetings where we can address our grievances and bring important issues directly to our elected officials in an open communication forum with Q & A. Residents now have 3 minutes during public comment and Letters to the Editor to be heard. Unfortunately, voices from members of the public are often ignored.

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