Musings on the Coast

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By Michael Ray
By Michael Ray

No one wants Laguna to become like Corona del Mar. CdM has been ruined by McMansionization. This never will happen in Laguna. Our Design Review Board (DRB) makes sure of that. The DRB has complete authority over the size, design, colors, height and exterior look of all new buildings or remodels. It is merciless. Any person who has ever been through it hates it, but once finished everyone wants all other projects similarly subjected.

It is about protecting the integrity of Laguna’s unique texture.  No Laguna resident wants that texture ruined.

The question is: why are Village Laguna, many members of the City Council and even some Laguna staff pushing for yet more control?

To do so, they want to expand the list of homes with an “historic designation.” The decision to place a home on the list would not be up to the homeowner. A city appointed “historic expert” would decide and after approved by the City Council, it is final.

I know. It happened to me. I own an old home in north Laguna with a Class C historic designation. This is the lowest of three designations and the least restrictive. The historic “expert’s” opinion was that the house “has no historic significance unto itself, but it adds to the historic character of the neighborhood.” (Yes, historic designation is that arbitrary.) It means I can never change the front of the home, including adding a front porch. So I requested the City Council to vote my house “off” the list. The Council voted 3-2 against my request.   They did not wish to create the precedent of allowing even one home off the list.   They were hard-core on this.

By comparison, I am one of the lucky ones. Homeowners with higher designations cannot change much of anything.   Some homes are tiny, wood-rooted, and leaky, with bad electrical and plumbing, or literally falling down, and the homeowner can’t upgrade or change it. If you own one of these homes, good luck. The city sure won’t help.

And the value of those homes plunges. Who wants to buy an old house you can’t fix or change?

Village Laguna is the local advocacy group pushing for maximum inclusion of homes on the list. Their public Power Point presentation asserts placement on the list does not diminish your home’s value.   It likely may increase it.   Their proof is a photo of one old house—historically designated—-that sold for asking price on the day it was listed.

I attended a Village Laguna presentation a few weeks ago at the local Unitarian Church.   There were about 20 people there, 10 or 11 of whom were regular Village Laguna members. About seven people attended to protest. Maybe four or five were there to seek new information.   Village Laguna President Johanna Felder made the presentation. Once finished, she took questions, so I asked one: “Is it the official position of Village Laguna that historical designation not only does not harm a home’s value, it may increase it?” She replied, “Well, the board of Village Laguna has not voted on this issue.”

Huh? Village Laguna is making public presentations and assertions its board has not approved? How does that make sense?

Let’s set aside this unusual dissonance and assume the board supports the assertion of value. Let’s do this because a majority of Council members apparently believes so, too, else why support something that harm’s your home’s value? They are there to protect us, not harm us.

The question is home valuation. Does your home’s placement on the list hurt its value? Or increase it?

I have a modest proposal on this subject and here it is:

First, the City should appoint five known and qualified “historic appraisers” from which any effected homeowner may ask for an appraisal of their home. There would be two appraised values:

  1. House is on historic list. 2. House is not on historic list.

Here is where the fun comes in. Asking for an appraisal would trigger a legal agreement between the city and the homeowner. If the value of the home is higher when on the list, the homeowner would pay the city the difference. If, however, the home value is lower, the city would pay the homeowner the difference.

Whether a homeowner asks the city for the appraisal is up to the homeowner. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Personally, I believe the cost to the city would be so overwhelming it would go bankrupt.

This may seem absurd, but that does not matter.

What matters is that City Council members put the city’s money where their mouth is. If there is no diminution of value, so what?   If there is, the city should pay. Otherwise, it is cynical political posturing.

And Village Laguna, please ask your board to vote on what your public presentation represents. Are home values hurt?   Yes or no?   Please go public with it. We all want to know.

*With apologies to Jonathon Swift.


Michael Ray is a local real estate developer and a founding board member of Discovery Cube and Orange County School of Arts, of Santa Ana; the Great Park, in Irvine; and Sage Hill School, Newport Beach.  


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  1. Another great article Michael Ray.
    Just out of curiosity…are any of the City Council members’ homes effected by this historical value issue? Is Village Laguna’s President Johanna Felder’s home effected? If the answer is “no” how can they justify their position. Easy when you don’t have a dog in the fight. Resembles communism, turning people’s private property into public property.


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