New Appeals Keep Artists on Hold


Artists are already lining up for the chance to take up residence in Louis Longi’s controversial work-live project in Laguna Canyon, which was approved by the City Council last week. When they will get the chance to apply remains to be seen as opponents are pursuing new avenues to halt the project.

On one front, opponents questioned the validity of the Council’s decision, an allegation later dismissed as irrelevant by the city attorney. On another, they promise a formal appeal to the Coastal Commission.

Artist Louis Longi
Artist Louis Longi

Even so, under the city’s revised work-live ordinance, artists, too, must pass an eligibility screening test to demonstrate they are legitimate working artists before Longi or anyone else can even consider them as a potential tenant.

Artists hoping to set up in any units designated for studio and living space, must first obtain written confirmation from the community development department that zoning for the unit is appropriate for their artwork, said Siân Poeschl, the city’s cultural arts manager. Welders, for example, would require industrial zoning, while writers or watercolor painters, say, could be accommodated in commercial or residential zones.

Artists must then submit an application for an occupancy permit, available at the city’s web site, to a recently created artist review panel, which consists of three Arts Commission members, one of whom must be a working artist. The panel, currently consisting of arts commissioners David Emmes, Mary Ferguson and Lisa Mansour, will review each application.

To qualify, the artists must meet at least three of these criteria: provide evidence of a body of work created within the last three years, have formal art training, have publicly presented their work, and provide three letters of recommendation from recognized arts professionals.

The screening process ensures that prospective tenants are truly working artists, said Poeschl. There is no fee to apply for the permit, which is specific to an individual unit and is not transferrable. What’s more, code enforcement personnel can make an appointment to visit at any time, in order to verify that the occupant is abiding by the approved use.

Since the new rules have been in place, the panel has approved one application, said Poeschl. City records show that in January the artist review panel approved the application that Adrienne Moore submitted to occupy a studio in a work/live facility at 3295 Laguna Canyon Road, along with the requisite proof of training, professional recommendations and examples of her work, including illustration, graphic designs and hand-painted furniture.

Some residents questioned whether Longi’s project could become adjunct student housing for the Laguna College of Art and Design, but Poeschl said the screening precludes most students.

Local sculptor Brittany Ryan, a four-year Festival of Arts exhibitor, said she would welcome the chance to live in one of Longi’s units. For the 12 years she’s lived here, she said “it’s always been a struggle” to find a place to work.

For the last five years, she rented a studio in Costa Mesa, but felt unsafe. So she just recently managed to carve out a small space to work in her home. It’s less than ideal since her home is not an industrial zone; she’s limited to table-top size works. To create larger works, she relies on her status as a Laguna College of Art and Design alumni to hone in on some sporadically available space there.

Though Longi doesn’t maintain a list of potential residents, since he doesn’t have permission to build yet, he receives e-mails and phone calls from about 10 artists a week hoping to get on some kind of wait list.

Aspiring residents will need patience.

Roger Butow, who represents the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Association, said he is drafting an appeal to the California Coastal Commission, contesting the City Council’s 3-2 approval of Longi’s project last week. The association filed the initial appeal to the Council, seeking to overturn the Planning Commission’s Jan. 8 approval of the 30-unit project with a 3-2 vote.

In a separate move, Butow e-mailed city officials this week claiming that an allegedly improper vote was cast at the January hearing, which should invalidate the Council’s vote. He contends that Planning Commission member Linda Dietrich admitted to bias before voting and thus should have recused herself from the commission’s decision making.

Butow requested a meeting to discuss the matter, which he suggested could also be pursued in court.

In a response issued this past Wednesday, City Attorney Phil Kohn said he investigated Butow’s allegation and determined that Dietrich’s “actual statements did not reflect disqualifiable bias.”

Further, he said the action of the City Council superseded the Planning Commission’s decision, rendering moot any assumed error by the non-elected body.

On a third front, Butow said he believes that the project’s water quality management plan, though certified by the city, does not comply with the city’s storm water permit. He planned to raise the issue at a meeting of the San Diego Regional Water Control Board taking place Wednesday in Mission Viejo.

“We just want a fair and just resolution on a local level,” Butow insisted.




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