All of our skepticism about the city purchasing the St. Catherine property was removed after taking a very informative tour of this site led by city employee Michael Litschi.
Our city government definitely made the right decision in the acquisition of this property for many reasons, including ready-to-use updated structures, variety of buildings with tremendous flexibility, many outdoor multi-use spaces, wonderful Spanish architecture and gorgeous ocean views.
A big thank you to our Laguna Beach City Council and city staff for having the vision to see the value of this property for our community and for making this happen.
Jim and Dee Perry, Laguna BeachView Our User Comment Policy
I agree with Jim and Dee Perry that the St. Catherine’s purchase was a good buy, and in great physical shape. It is indeed a jewel of a piece of property and I appreciated the opportunity to tour the grounds. I wish more residents had that opportunity since the viewing was limited to just 3 afternoons during 1 week. Loved the proposal to use the chapel as a wedding or other special occassion venue in the future and using buildings/rooms as rental spaces for residents organizations and non-profits. And love the idea of a mobile skate park, long overdue. The gymnasium is beautiful and surely will be utlized often by our community.
But, I have concerns with mission creep, employee creep, and City Hall south creep, especially based on the “interim” basis approved by City Council. This property should be primarily, and foremost, for the use and benefit of the residents. We all know what “interim” means, it means a soft way to get to permanent without anyone noticing the use has become permanent, kind of like the “trial” 4 day works weeks and more recently the “trial” closing of city hall between Christmas and New Years, giving City employees a nice long holiday break with zero resources available for City residents in the interm, in addition to all the other days off.
Here are my concerns:
1. The first floor has been approved for “interim” use by city administrative staff, including fire administration, and will include an “employee lounge.” Those of us who got the full tour (and many apparently only got an abbreviated tour), know that the City poached some of the best spaces for its own use – by my estimates about 5,000 square fee of ocean view classrooms. But the kicker is the City poached arguably the best “primo” space, complete with an unobstructed ocean view, and the only balcony, for the city employee “breakroom.” That’s some breakroom. The breakroom should be included in one of the smaller spaces on the first floor, without the full ocean view and balcony. That space instead should be used for the benefit of community residents, to host meetings, art classes, maybe some recreations classes like yoga and meditation, and also could be rented out for small party gatherings for special occassions, or lectures by authors. It is a beautiful space, and should not be utilized as a “breakroom” for city employees to eat their lunches.
2. By my estimates, the first floor being utilized for city use on an “interim” basis is at least 5,000 square feet. That’s alot of space, and does not even include the principals/administrative offices, apparently for the fire chiefs, which is about another 1000 square feet. My guess is that the number of city employees will magically “grow” to fill all that space, with unnecessary additional staff and newly created positions, etc. resulting in “government employee creep” in a town that has steadily held its population at approximately 24,000 for years, while the size of City Hall continues to grow. I was told that one of the rooms may be just for employees to “write reports”, as if they need a dedicated room just to do that.
3. There is no budget for the property. By my estimates we are looking at about $1 Million/year for operational expense. Already there has been discussion of having a full time groundskeeper/maintenance position and at least one full time recreation supervisor. We need to determine how the property will pencil out with estimated revenues before anything becomes permanent.
4. Parking – there is not alot of parking, and an initial concern is if the City is already taking over 5,000 square feet of space, how many parking spots will be left for residents? Will those spots be reserved only for the City employees?
5. The soccer field is a a great addition to needed recreational space. There was talk of maybe converting that to parking. Please don’t.
Anyways, just some initial thoughts. I would be interested in other’s reactions to the proposed usages for this property. I’m heartened by the proposed recreational and educational uses for residents. It could be a fantastic opportunity for residents, since they are the ones whose tax dollars paid for its purchase.
Please don’t let it become “City Hall South” in a town that is only 8 square miles. And please make sure residents are afforded a real opprotunity to give input on its usage. To date, residents have not been given that opportunity.