Letter: Look For a Better and More Feasible Solution


Tuesday evening the City Council responded to public requests for two studies into the Laguna Residents First (LRF) ballot initiative. If LRF’s initiative is approved in November, it would call for the public to vote before various kinds of developments can be approved. The request was to provide an economic impact analysis on the City if the initiative were to pass as well as recommendations to better achieve constraints on unwanted developments. The concern expressed by many has been that while the LRF ballot initiative is constructive in calling out developments that should be constrained it accidentally goes much too far and puts handcuffs on “good” projects. By doing so it creates a lack of predictability for those willing to invest in Laguna thereby creating an embargo on needed improvements to our aging commercial real estate stock as well as apartments. The growing seedy appearance of our town would accelerate if the ballot initiative is approved.

The initial response Tuesday evening from LRF proponents is criticism of both studies. It’s somewhat understandable because people are passionate about their LRF initiative. But I’m an optimist. My hope is that proponents will declare victory by celebrating that their work produced a focus on what it is in Laguna that we want to protect and avoid and that the City Council is prepared to address methods for better ensuring this.

We have months to either create an alternative ballot initiative that avoids the current one’s pitfalls as well as consider modifications to the City’s codes that apply to project approvals. My hope is that the passion behind LRF can be re-channeled to best address how to have desired development be promoted and undesired blocked. This should not be a win/lose moment. The LRF proponents did not lose on Tuesday evening by hearing the pitfalls of the initiative. Their goal should be assuring sound development regardless of how this is achieved.

Finally, for those who signed the ballot initiative without knowing all of the detail that’s baked in the document, by signing it you raised the visibility of important issues. You’re totally able to pivot to working together to support a better and more feasible solution. Your signature doesn’t mean you need to continue supporting it as flaws are highlighted nor that you need to vote for it this fall.

Joe Hanauer, Laguna Beach

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  1. Mr. Hanauer –

    Truly, with all respect, I believe your thoughts and aspirations are too hopefully naive.

    Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen so far, Liberate Laguna/Laguna Forward and the City Council members it has funded have absolutely no desire to work together with residents.

    Their ongoing lack of transparency, back room wheeling and dealing, and autocratic decision-making is only designed to preferentially favor developers and commercial property owners in the Downtown area – residents are treated like nuisances and impediments who need to be pushed out of the way and steamrolled over. Just ask Peter Blake, Sue Kempf and City Manager Shohreah Dupuis – all who have openly proclaimed their hyper-focus-sole-purpose is to monetize Laguna by promoting more tourism and creating conditions that favor businesses, commercial property owners and developers – all at residents’ expense and the village’s historic detriment.

    By extension, one can not read the Downtown Specific Plan without recognizing that it’s hugely business favorable and resident neglectful – posing a grave threat to the charm and historic beauty of Laguna Beach, all without any input or consideration for the residents who pay approximately 70% of the City’s taxes.

    The deep-pocket Liberate Laguna/Laguna Forward developers have marshaled their purchased City Council clout to push their pro-development agenda – now going so far as to hire an outside heavy-weight political consulting firm to spin and sell their profiteering, overdevelopment agenda.

    This does not sound like anyone who wants to work willing with the residents of Laguna.

    Ballot initiatives in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach are very similar to the ones being proposed here have been very successful in staving off overdevelopment while also leaving plenty of room for developers to create compatible, responsible, reasonable projects that strike a balance between developers’ aspirations and residents’ needs.

    This is a strong, nuanced initiative, well-crafted over three years of development – not something cobbled together as a last minute, hail Mary pass to divert the public. And right now, it is the best single preventative measure to protect Laguna from the overt kind of overdevelopment we’ve seen in Dana Point and Huntington Beach.

    While I applaud the excellent job you did with the Pottery Shack project, I suggest you consider the nature and goals of those seeking to redevelop Laguna – I firmly believe they are not of your stature or values.

  2. I lived in Costa Mesa on the edge of Newport Beach for 16 years. I saw not only how bad some of the development projects got trying to force 8 properties in the space of what was once one property. I also saw how bad the anti-development opponents got in causing havoc at council meetings and seeding disharmony in the community. Unfortunately, both were wrong and should have listened to each other more.

    The same is true in Laguna. A few vocal residents have turned civic duty into sport trying to strip power from council through costly initiatives. On the other side, the old club of rotating council members and their closest contributors are are still not interested in listening to anyone else and will most likely craft a competitive referendum to try to confuse the voters.

    For those looking to create a competitive initiative, start by listening to the residents and not your inner-circle. That is why you are in this place now and why you will probably follow in the footsteps of Costa Mesa. You’re better off trying to beat the initiative on its flaws than trying to be clever; the voters can always smell a trick.

  3. Thank you Jerome. So well-said. With Mr. Hanauer’s reputation and clout, it saddens me that he hasn’t stepped up before this issue to reach out to actually help solve the ongoing residents building related concerns that have been so heavily publicly expressed for several years now. One would think that his expertise and opinion to the community at large would have been valuable. Appealing to local voters now who are trying to protect what they love about our town by asking them to disregard the residents first initiative while he and other investors/developers create a new one is simply a NO for me.


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