Opinion: Column Q


By Chris Quilter
FWIW, as the kids say, naming the LRF initiative Measure Q was the County’s call, not mine. With that out of the way, let me introduce you to the anti-Q group I recently joined.

Citizens for Laguna’s Future is a grassroots movement to keep Laguna Laguna. That’s why we oppose the ballot initiative called Measure Q. Backers claim it will prevent steroidal developments by putting them to a vote of the people. Yet as the fine print reveals, it would discourage all development and require voters to weigh in on scores of projects, large and small.

Had we been saddled with Measure Q four years ago, the City estimates that 29 projects would have had to go to the ballot. None were blockbusters. Some were as modest as downtown’s Slice Pizza, which restored and repurposed an empty home decor shoppe. Measure Q calls that an intensification, and its “cumulative effects” clause would have added an eight-year lookback at the impact of all development within a one mile radius. Measure Q would also sweep up projects as vital as the South Laguna fire station and as exciting as the reimagining of the St. Catherine of Siena school property.

Measure Q is an example of direct democracy, which works great when voters are asked direct questions. Should we boost the bed tax? Bury our poles? Buy a greenbelt? Measure Q, however, is so complex that even our most seasoned elected official admits she doesn’t understand it. Where does that leave voters who want to make informed decisions? Doing deep dives into dense documents like Measure Q, election after election, accompanied by noisy campaigns like this one, that’s where. Democracy is hard, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. With that in mind, here are seven reasons to vote “No” on Measure Q.

First, Measure Q is an attempt to solve a problem we don’t have. Overdevelopment? What overdevelopment? Laguna’s historic beach town vibe is alive and well, and we’ll fight anyone who tries to mess with it.

Second, Laguna has been a low-and-slow growth town since we passed America’s first community-wide height ordinance in 1971. It’s one of many reasons why Laguna is such a challenging place to build anything.

Third, the Council just strengthened our building codes. These changes address so many core concerns of Measure Q’s authors that we dared to dream they’d declare victory and withdraw it. No such luck.

Fourth, Measure Q was written in secret by people with no land use experience. Land use legislation is complex. It shouldn’t be written by amateurs who bypass the City Council, Planning Commission, and city planning professionals.

Fifth, Measure Q will hurt local businesses run by our friends and neighbors. Locals own 70% of our businesses. Ask them why they are overwhelmingly opposed to Measure Q. Hint: it has a lot to do with “cumulative effects.”

Sixth, Measure Q will force us to raise our taxes or compromise our safety. It will cost us millions of dollars a year in lost revenues and added expenses. That’s money we now use to fund our first-class police and fire departments and other essential services.

Seventh, Measure Q will discourage the preservation of historic buildings. Restoring old buildings is a really, really expensive business proposition. More red tape will compound the problem and invite more delays, while our heritage buildings molder away.

The earnest people behind Measure Q are not hardened criminals. But they are hardened worrywarts who don’t think the rest of us have what it takes to keep Laguna Laguna. Like well-intentioned but overprotective helicopter parents, they’ll stifle and stunt our hometown in a misguided attempt to keep it unique, safe, and vibrant. If you agree that Measure Q won’t work and will hurt the town we love, help us spread the word, check out citizensforlagunasfuture.com, donate if you can, and join us in voting No on Q in November.

Chris is a senior and housing advocate, co-founder of Laguna Neighbors, and co-chair of Alex Rounaghi’s campaign for City Council.

Share this:
View Our User Comment Policy


  1. Well said, Chris. Here’s an eighth reason: cities are dynamic, changing places that have to constantly be reimagined to meet the needs of today and the future. That is why city governments amend their zoning and general plans. Case in point is Costa Mesa, who is now trying to reverse the negative effects of their citizens initiative to vote on large projects. That’s because the state has mandated that they build a certain amount of affordable housing. Now they are saddled with this cumbersome initiative that prevents them from moving expeditiously to solve their problems. It has stymied the government from action, so it will be back on the ballot this fall – to eliminate. Measure Q, formerly called BLOZD (Businesses Leave Overnight Zoning District), will freeze our city in time with onerous bureaucracy that will lead to decay and loss of home values.

  2. Several weeks ago, in this paper, Mr Quilter predicted I was going to run for an open Council seat. He sifted through his tea leaves and found numerous “tells” that this was the case (including that I had taken to wearing a hat similar to one that George Weiss is known to wear).

    As events have shown, Mr Quilter’s sleuthing abilities are quite fallible. I’d argue that the same set of skills he relied upon to make his “Morris is running” prediction are leading him to the same faulty type of conclusion here. No “tea leaf” reading is needed to predict the outcome of passing Measure Q. Just look around us at the numerous cities that have passed very similar measures with very positive, pro-resident results.

  3. In early 2019 over 200 Laguna residents from ten local community organizations met to address serious shared concerns about our city. A couple of months later a smaller group of about 60 residents decided how to successfully address these concerns. Laguna Residents First was born.

    Several working groups with a variety of backgrounds (including development and real estate) met to develop a ballot initiative that is now Measure Q. This measure has been vetted by at least seven lawyers. This is what a grass-roots organization looks like and how over 2600 residents signed the initiative to get it on the ballot.

    Why are so many developers (Michael Ray, Mohammed Honarkar, etc.) afraid of Measure Q? Maybe it’s because of what they plan to do after the election. They covet what they haven’t had before: three reliable city council members who will open the gates to large developments. Need proof? Look to the so-called Museum hotel on Coast Highway.

    There are too many factual errors and misstatements in Mr. Quilter’s diatribe to correct here. The bottom line: Measure Q gives residents a say in how our beautiful city continues to develop. A 3-2 city council vote can override any ordinance the city approves. The developers have their candidates for the election, they have gobs of money and they want their gateway to personal profit.

  4. Oh Michael, if your BLOZD (Businesses Leave Overnight Zoning District) Initiative looked anything like neighboring cities (which are laser focused on mega-developments that require a change to zoning or the General Plan), I along with many others would support it. Unfortunately it’s so granular and intrusive that we would have never gotten Joe Hanauer’s wonderful Pottery Shack, Cary Redfearn’s wonderful Slice, and the new Red Dragon restaurant. The list goes on and on. They would not have even tried because it would have been too costly and time consuming. And we would all be the worse for it. All anyone needs to know is that 29 projects would have had to be voted on in the last 4 years. What a wonderful way to ruin a perfectly charming city.

  5. Mr Morris, you risk being labelled humorless. That column was satire not prophecy. If it’s any comfort, I think you would have made a more interesting and qualified candidate than Jerome Pudwill, not that I would vote for either of you. Honestly, if your best argument in favor of Measure Q that “other cities are doing it,” then you haven’t noticed that we’re not like other cities.

  6. Mr. Quilter:
    You state “you haven’t noticed that we’re not like other cities.”

    This is the reason why so many supporters of development in Laguna keep making the same mistake…Yes, most residents have noticed we’re not like other cities. Why is that? Well, because so many residents before us worked diligently to keep deep pocket developers out of Laguna. We go to Dana Point, Newport Beach, Irvine, Laguna Niguel and we notice the differences.

    I firmly believe the current generation of Laguna Residents wish to continue the tradition of so many before us: To Preserve and protect Laguna Beach so it does not become like other cities!! The “Q” initiative is our contribution to that effort like the Hano’s saved Main Beach, Iseman saved the canyon from over development, Christoph saved Treasure Island Beaches from privatization.

  7. Mr Baez: I keep making your point in explaining why I oppose Measure Q: we have long had some of the most restrictive development policies in the country, thanks to people like the Hanos, Iseman, Christoph, and many undersung others who deserve our thanks. Many of them have made it clear that they don’t trust the current Council majority to protect their legacy. So what did the Council just do? They voted to strengthen our anti-development rules! I have no skin in the development game, and I will oppose anyone who wants to mess with our small town vibe by overdeveloping it. So I totally agree with your wish to keep Laguna Laguna. I just don’t think Measure Q is the worst way to do it.

    BTW, You are rewriting history: Ann Christoph did not save “Treasure Island Beaches from privatization.” She supported a referendum that would have blocked rezoning Treasure Island to let the Montage project go forward. Had her side prevailed, the beaches would have remained in private hands. As it is, we got a top-rated public beach and a beachfront public park out of the deal, maintained by a resort I can’t afford.

  8. Chris Q.:
    You are correct: Neither Ann or VL/Toni Iseman, including the chapter known as South Laguna Civic Assn., on their own “saved Treasure Island beaches from privatization.”
    A series of meetings in 1999-2000 that I brokered with the developers reps, Kim Richards & John Mansour (Athens Development Corp), included key Board members of my then nascent NGO, Clean Water Now (founded in 1998).
    We met in the only building left standing at TI, I think the small community/management center?
    Then it was planned to be a 4 Star Marriott, financed by a Merrill Lynch investment group. 5 Star Montage Resorts didn’t even exist.
    The ADC secretary for those meetings was Ann Quilter, btw. I think you know her Chris?
    Reps from the LB Chapter of Surfrider Foundation were in attendance wearing both SF hats but also as CWN members.
    The SF reps were openly hostile, suspicious, and used fowl vulgar language, disrespected me as well, turned on me and accused me of being traitorous, ignored my goal as CWN’s Executive Director to withhold judgment, try to see if a negotiated path forward was possible.
    I felt that we could get critical concessions/exactions if we persevered.
    We were shown an old mockup of an enormous and grossly designed cliff side cascading resort similar to something you’d see in an exotic location like Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta.
    But the ADC had already voluntarily abandoned that concept, unfortunately the SF reps left the table anyway and never returned. So too other LB activists were reacting to a non-existent boogeyman.
    My father, Hermann, was co-founder and Chairman of his union for 25 years. He taught me that leaving the table reduces your leverage, stay at that table and hammer out settlements.
    Don’t be the first to leave, be calm, be the last.
    Ask Ann, ask John Mansour, we were integral in the development of the Water Quality Management Plan for the resort (not yet The Montage) and also gave input regarding the public park and most importantly, protection of marine life/human aquatic habitats.
    Why? Because we stayed at the table, myself and Director Scott Woodard (The Whaleman Foundation) attended the Cal Coastal Commission hearing in Santa Barbara in June of 2000 (??).
    We were able to support the project, and no, we were not coerced or paid to appear—Scott & I each paid our own way, gave testimony.
    Was it then or now a perfect project? No.
    Was VL/SLCA et al solely responsible for keeping the coves open to the public? No.
    Like the Canyon Work/Live, many congratulate (or blame) VL for every piece of everything good regarding environmental protection.
    Truth is, it was me as a professional land use/CEQA advisor and CWN as an NGO that affected both projects. VL was MIA when when we fought the good fight in the Canyon. VL dropped in at 11:59 pm, after the horse was out of the barn. They were pitifully late to the fracas, hence had zero impact.
    It was stellar leadership by Ms. Jackie Gallagher (Friends of the Canyon), CANDO (conglomerate of HOAs) and FotC Attorney Julie Hamilton that held the developer accountable..
    Frankly, bluntly, neither myself or CWN finds VL or SLCA relevant in our SOC regional world, nor did we ever find a burning need to collaborate with them.
    Over-rated “Paper tigers” as Chairman Mao might call them.

  9. Chris: Thank you for this column. Here, and elsewhere, your writing is clear, witty, rigorous, and informed. I like the cut of your jib, sir!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here