Opinion: Apply the Golden Rule in Laguna’s Historic Preservation

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By Daniel Rosenthal

In last week’s Independent, Catherine Jurca took me to task for a recent column where I challenged the propriety of a lawsuit brought by her Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition against the City, dragging along the respected Kirby family in the process.

Let me begin by thanking Ms. Jurca for her article. While I obviously don’t agree with everything said there, I applaud her civility. Civil discourse in the public arena is something that has been missing for far too long. When properly employed, rationally presented honest disagreements in this format can help create a healthy environment for introspection and compromise. I hope this piece provides a further example of that.

Early in her article, Ms. Jurca references my position as a member of the Heritage Committee. In my role there, she claims that my actions there “exemplifies how Laguna fails both families and historic properties.” At the outset of my term, I admit that I thought the Committee was pretty much a waste of time and just another intrusive hurdle to be overcome by homeowners seeking alterations to their properties that were either on the inventory or Historic Register. After just two meetings, I learned that I was wrong. Clark Collins helped me see that the Heritage Committee functions well as an important mechanism for gathering evidence needed by the City to decide on the legality of any proposed alterations to historical resources. Its findings are advisory only. My reason for being on the Heritage Committee is to ensure that both city and state laws, including CEQA, are followed without exception.

Next, Jurca crawls inside my head (frankly a very scary place to go!) and tells me that I “believe[s] that it is always wrong to enforce CEQA for historic resources because I [he] wants preservation to be voluntary.” Well, I went inside my head to check this out, but I was only there a short time, as I was forced to seek shelter elsewhere pretty quickly. Here’s what I found: my desire to follow the law runs paramount to almost everything else, except the Golden Rule. When those two are in conflict, I follow the Golden Rule. So as much as I would wish that all preservation were voluntary, the laws of Laguna Beach and California and even the proposed new Historic Preservation Ordinance don’t allow it, not by a long shot. I intend to follow the law.

Further on, Ms. Jurca stays inside my head (gosh, what a trooper!) to say that I don’t “understand that city approval of a project is no guarantee it complies with CEQA”. I didn’t go back inside my head to review this (too scary for me!), but I really didn’t need to. I know this is true and have for a long time. The propriety of any city’s actions with regard to historical resources will always be subject to litigation. That’s why Village Laguna sued the City over the process that was used to pass the new Historic Preservation Ordinance. That’s why Ms. Jurca and others appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the already spectacular Rivian-South Coast Theater project. They were laying the groundwork for a suit. Regardless of the motivation, it’s been going on ever since CEQA became law and will continue until the state undertakes a sorely needed overhaul of this incredibly arcane legislation.

So where’s the sticking point? I said earlier that I am absolutely committed to following the law. Obviously, so is Ms. Jurca. See? Agreement! Has the City erred in its application of the CEQA process? The court will decide this particular case, but in my opinion, the City has often misinterpreted historic preservation law and process. Even more agreement! She and the Coalition for whom she speaks go off the rails when they place a challenge to the City’s application of the law above the well-being of both a fine Laguna family and the historical resource that family is trying to restore. Does she have a right to file this suit? Absolutely! Is she following the Golden Rule when she does so? Not in a million years. There will be plenty of later options to keep a check on the City’s historic preservation protocols. This is a case where Ms. Jurca and her followers did not choose wisely. They should follow the Golden Rule and drop it.

Daniel is a member of the Laguna Beach Heritage Committee and former chair of the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the City of Laguna Beach or any of its committees.

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