A True Positive Change in Laguna?
There’s a lot of talk these days about “positive change” for Laguna. We will definitely be changed after our current crisis is over. Let’s take a look at what the developer-friendly folks who have been advocating their version of change really mean.
Their biggest cry is that we have to pass the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). Let’s break it down to its parts. The first is the Conditional Use Permit (CUP). You know what? I agree that needs to be changed. As a good conservative, I have always said let the market decide and get government out of running our lives. So yes, let’s do away with regulations that require a store owner to get permission to change his product mix. I find it funny though that this group is saying we need to attract high-end visitors to Laguna yet they are incensed when the Planning Commission denied a shop owner the right to sell branded Laguna Beach shot glasses. Since when is a souvenir shot glass high-end?
Another part of the DSP is combining lots. That would make a mega store at a time when everyone is saying that retail is struggling and online is taking over. Can someone explain to me how making a larger space will rent the building, ensure the success of a new retailer or add anything “high-end” to Laguna? This is a canard to allow a developer to come in and maximize his return on investment in demolishing and rebuilding a property. Why is one of our largest spaces in downtown—the former Sprouse-Reitz Co. building—vacant right now? Surely that would count as a combined lot and it’s been vacant for nearly a year.
How about adding an extra story on downtown buildings? That’s part of the DSP that the developers are so eager to pass right now. How is that going to help a retailer on the first floor? I recall how hard it was for the upstairs store on the corner of Forest Avenue and Glenneyre to get people to go up the stairs. That was a revolving door of retailers. What are you going to do with that extra story—have affordable housing? I don’t think so when you examine a developer’s costs to build. Does anyone want to live above the Marine Room?
Then there’s parking. They insist we get rid of parking requirements. Let’s say we do. Where is everyone going to park? How do you magically get more parking to accommodate no restrictions? Ah yes, you build a parking structure. Who pays? Commercial owners or retailers who will benefit? No, it’s the residents. We will be paying once again for the tourists to come and use our services and amenities. How much will it cost per parking space? I’ve heard $100,000. And where will it go? The Village Entrance is done.
What happened to the Maintenance Ordinance forcing landlords to upkeep their buildings? Are landlords waiting it out to get the highest price from developers if the DSP is passed wholesale? Do they care if their storefronts are empty and their buildings need repairs?
The positive change this group is envisioning is for the benefit of developers certainly not residents or downtown businesses. We can take parts of the DSP and pass the good ones like eliminating the CUP. But for heaven’s sake, especially in our new world, let’s take a look at the ramifications to residents on the impact of combining lots, adding a story and untethering parking requirements. Let’s do development compatible with the Laguna we have now.
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