The Laguna Residents First Initiative to have the public vote on larger-scale commercial projects is a solution in search of a problem. Ever since Mohammad Honarkar exploded onto the scene with a seemingly endless appetite for masochism (and OK, questionable taste on one project), the knives have been out to stop everything he does. But this cooked up conspiracy theory that he is colluding with Liberate Laguna and our elected officials to destroy Laguna’s charm is not just a canard, it’s the Canadian Goose of mendacity.
Let’s start with the unfounded claim that they are out to build high-rises that exceed our height limits. The 36-foot limit is a sacred pillar of Laguna’s building code. Not one politician or member of Liberate Laguna has ever spoken in favor of eliminating it. Sure, there have been discussions of allowing third stories on downtown buildings (in part to create affordable housing), but they still would not exceed 36 feet.
But then George Weiss, founder emeritus of Laguna Residents First, ran for city council and campaigned with pictures of downtown Huntington Beach with the caption, “Think this can’t happen here? Think again.” Well yes, I thought about it twice, and it just can’t happen here. Too many historic protections, specific plans, Coastal Commission and environmental impacts, parking limitations, and that pesky height limit. Not to mention it’s anathema to 99% of the people who live here.
Then fellow columnist and Village Laguna member Ann Christoph piled on the campaign of terror with an epic takedown of the downtown Dana Point remodel, warning us it could happen right here. A false equivalency if I’ve ever seen one. Yes, the generic mid-rise buildings that line Del Prado are not the scale or style we want, but they were dealing with a complete void on that street—empty blocks—and building high density, multi-use structures with housing above and services below addresses every critical need and is smart planning. It’s how you build a vital downtown from scratch (and why ours is often moribund).
So now a group of retirees have posited that tourists are the devil, and they want to be the overlords of our city government and planning. Talk about bottlenecking an already tortuous process. The ballot measure calls for public approval of every project that would add 200 or more “average daily trips.” Say goodbye to any new bar, restaurant, café, pub, entertainment venue, gallery, and likely retail, too. What developer would want to deploy money into that swirling hellhole? It also calls for public approval of anything that “worsens parking by providing fewer than a reasonably necessary number of parking spaces.” Just when you thought we were finally at the threshold of the greatest downtown reformation in years with the permanent Forest Promenade, along comes this initiative to bollix up the works and delay any actions until the town votes on it.
Don’t let this tired pro-development trope scare you, folks. They’ll tell you Liberate Laguna’s sole agenda is to bulldoze the town. The founders of that PAC are way too health conscious to take on a development project here. Their stake in this town is almost exclusively residential, and their primary goal is individual property rights. But the anti-everything coalitions conveniently conflate their interests with Honarkar’s. It’s a false flag. And does anyone really believe that Mayor Bob Whalen and Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf are taking their marching orders from Michael Ray, Sam Goldstein, and Cindy Shopoff? Good lord!
One of the ballot initiative advocates wrote in lagunabeachindy.com last week, “The only reason the Laguna Resident First initiative came into existence is because the city’s biased and bought rogue government has continuously and repeatedly failed to represent the needs, wants and desires of Laguna’s residents.” He later claims the “developer-supported politicians have demolished Laguna’s charming buildings and replaced them with oversized stucco-box tchotchke shops and view-blocking multi-story hotels. “Huh? What alternative dimension are they living in?
We elect our officials to move our town forward, and to address real issues like public safety, congestion, resilience, pollution, infrastructure, and preserving and enhancing our unique character by getting historic landmarks like Hotel Laguna, The Coast Inn, and Laguna Cinemas tastefully opened again. Just as they did with the Ranch, Montage, and Senior Center. In other words, making life better for us. That’s not pro-development. That’s pro-progress. And being pro-progress does not mean destroying our past. It means honoring it by bringing it thoughtfully forward into the 21st century.
This fall, don’t be misled with fear based missives arguing that we need to vote on every consequential project because our elected officials just don’t cut it. It’s a waste of time, money and oxygen. Let the planning commission, city staff and council do their formidable jobs so the rest of us can do ours: complaining.
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