By Randy Lewis
It was just a matter of time before deep-pocket developers and pro-development City Council and staff members would begin to express their nervousness over the resident-driven measure that would offer enhanced protection for the architectural integrity and character of our town. It is apparent that that time has come. And, along with it, a sense of panic that concerned voters just might hold sway in the November election and vote to support the Laguna Residents First initiative. Their response: disseminate misinformation, sling mud, call out people by name, slander their character, and belittle and devalue their past contributions on behalf of our community.
For years, the writing has been on the wall about the plans of big money developers and commercial landlords to re-shape the character of our town by proposing construction projects on a scale never previously entertained or envisioned. In response to this very real peril, a grassroots group of volunteers has garnered the necessary signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would give residents a voice in determining the future of our town. Borrowing from Newport Beach’s court-upheld “Greenlight” initiative as well as legislation adopted by other communities facing similar development pressures, the Laguna Residents First movement was born.
The Laguna Residents First initiative is not a tempestuous no-growth proposal. Rather it is a human-scale growth initiative promoting a pathway to the “responsible, thoughtful, and viable evolution of our commercial districts.” It is important to note that single-family residential projects or residential projects of nine or fewer units would be exempt from the limitations of this initiative. Likewise, public or private K-12 school, hospital, museum, or house of worship projects would be exempt. The scope and intent of this initiative is limited. Its focus is limited to citizen input on proposed large-scale development projects.
The Laguna Residents First initiative would trigger a public vote on those projects that exceed 22,000 square feet, intensify traffic by 200 or more additional daily car trips, and do not meet on-site parking requirements. Hardly radical stuff.
As expected, developers and their political allies claim that the Laguna Residents First initiative is unnecessary. They say it is another example of bureaucratic overreach. They argue that existing building codes are sufficient to protect our community from over-development. They ask that we trust them.
The fact is that they are frightened. They dread residents may not share in their grand plans and majestic vision for our town. They are afraid that residents may not support tearing down buildings and replacing them with new, taller, more dense commercial spaces. They are threatened by the idea of citizen participation and the concept of direct democracy.
Laguna Beach is widely recognized as the jewel in Orange County’s crown. We are fortunate to live in such a place and call it home. The Laguna Residents First ballot initiative would provide voters with an opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to intense, large-scale development projects that have the potential to re-shape the town’s historical look and character.
Developers and their enablers and influencers tell us we need not be concerned—that this brouhaha is nothing more than “a tempest in a teapot.” If that’s the case, then what is there to fear? Everything.
Randy is a 50-year resident of Laguna Beach and retired executive associate dean of students at UC Irvine.View Our User Comment Policy