Opinion: Another powerful argument for the ballot initiative


By John Thomas

With only three ways in and out of Laguna and the fact that it will take more than four hours to evacuate Laguna in the event of an emergency, further intensification of commercial land uses is simply irresponsible.

And yet, in the face of the results of the 2021 City-funded evacuation study, the City has done nothing to address the risks posed by the constant push for “more and more” intensification of commercial development. In fact, actions like the reduction of the Downtown Specific Plan parking requirements simply incentivizes increases in intensification of land uses.

Days ago, a judge overturned the approvals of a 3,000-home development in San Diego because the plan didn’t fully address whether thousands of new residents would have time to flee during an emergency like a wildfire.

The Ballot Initiative is not just about the aesthetics of large-scale commercial development. The Ballot Initiative is about the safety of our community—of our families.

Intensification of commercial land uses is a key focus of the Ballot Initiative. “Intensification” is just a wonky term of “more traffic, more people, and more congestion” in the same size container.

Like the argument that it’s “not just another pretty face”, a powerful argument for the Ballot Initiative is its implications for the safety of residents and visitors alike.

In July 2021 the City received the 432-page “Wildfire Egress Study” produced by KLD Engineering. It found that:

1. The entire City takes four hours and 20 minutes, on average under normal roadway conditions (no roadways hazards like stalled vehicles, trees or debris, and/or power lines blocking the road, thick smoke limiting sight distance, etc.), to evacuate with no roadway closures.
2. If a wildfire renders SR‐133 (Laguna Canyon Rd) unavailable, the time to evacuate 100% of the entire City increases by as much as 40 minutes.
3. If a wildfire renders SR‐133 and SR‐73 unavailable, the time to evacuate 100% of the entire City increases by as much as 1 hour and 20 minutes.
4. If a wildfire renders SR‐1 (Coast Highway) northbound and SR‐133 (Laguna Canyon Road) unavailable, the time to evacuate 100% of the entire City increases by as much as four hours.
5. If a wildfire renders SR‐1 southbound and SR‐133 unavailable, the time to evacuate 100% of the entire City increases by as much as 3 hours and 45 minutes.

The following is an excerpt from the Associated Press article about the judge’s ruling:

“Judge: California city must overturn project”
“A judge has ordered the Southern California city of Santee to throw out approval of a long-planned housing project, ruling that developers hadn’t adequately considered how new homes could affect potential wildfire evacuations. The Santee City Council in late 2020 approved the Fanita Ranch project, giving approval to 3,000 new homes in hills northeast of San Diego.
In her decision, Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal wrote that eight resolutions and ordinances giving approval must be overturned.”
The newspaper said the judge expressed concern that the plan didn’t fully address whether thousands of new residents would have time to flee during an emergency like a wildfire.”

How can we ignore this?

John is a board member of the South Laguna Civic Association and Laguna Beach Audit Review & Measure LL Oversight Committee.

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  1. Thanks John for pointing out the risks residents are forced to accept when businesses are allowed to intensify use in an ever escalating spiral to chase more tourist dollars. Without exception, every remodel, every “new concept to bring greater vibrancy” requires permission to add more seats/tables/users. Not only do these newly intensified uses fail to mitigate their immediate effects (e.g. insufficient parking for heightened demand), cumulatively they put residents and visitors at risk in the event of a large-scale emergency requiring evacuation as you correctly point out. Thanks for raising the alarm.

  2. your argument is not comprehensible. Because none of this applies to Laguna Beach where there is no development at all. Much less over development.
    Just because you keep stating it over and over doesn’t make it so. Or maybe it does. Just follow the Trump mentality. I won the election. Sure John. We have a danger of ANY development in Laguna…. Where is it specifically . Please. Tell us

  3. Cindy Shopoff, please speak for yourself. We residents get it and certainly can comprehend the risks and pitfalls if we allow our town to go in the direction you and your developer PAC Liberate Laguna now Forward and funded/compromised city council members Blake and Kempf have planned for us.

    Love the marketing angle though. It’s all about progress people! Ok Sure. The problem you and your LLFPAC have is: LB voters aren’t naive or stupid. They know all developers have one goal…lining their pockets. There’s no sincerity there there when it comes to improving a community, only a big splash by developers and when the dust settles, we still only have 7 miles of a beautiful coastal city to live in and protect. Please rethink your position and join in this protection effort.

    And please stop the battleground atmosphere you created in 2018. Laguna Beach is a precious gem we all get to enjoy with warmth and wonder. Put an end to the political takeover attempt you, Mike Ray, Sam Goldstein and Mo Honarker thought was a good idea in 20128 and 2020. Laguna locals aren’t buying what you have to sell. Thank goodness!

  4. We already have a voice. Vote for the person that best represents you views for city council, after that its up to them. Thats why we elect them. If your candidate does not win a seat on the city council, your positions are in the minority. Get over it and try again next time. This “Laguna Residents First” thing is just another way to try to subvert the majority vote of the people.


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