Opinion: Fanatic Preservationists Are Hurting Laguna Families

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By Daniel Rosenthal

Historic preservation efforts by the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition, a close affiliate of Village Laguna, and ardent preservationist Cathy Jurca go too far when they start to ruin the lives of families who are just trying to do the right thing.

In addition to suing the City in their attempt to derail the proposed new Historic Preservation Ordinance, this group, with Jurca’s support, has now filed suit against the Kirbys, a fine family of four with deep roots in Laguna. If successful, this suit could effectively kill the Kirby’s efforts to fully renovate and improve their Historic Register property in North Laguna. You heard it right. The Kirbys are passionate about historic preservation! They must be passionate, because here’s what they’ve had to go through so far:

  • They bought their property in 2017 with full knowledge that it was on the Register and with the vision of renovating the deteriorating property into a fine home for their young family. They engaged renowned architect Todd Skenderian and with guidance from the Planning Department they created a set of plans. 
  • To ensure compliance with CEQA Guidelines and the Secretary of the Interior Standards for renovation of historical resources they hired a state licensed historic consultant to conduct a full analysis of the plans. 
  • Based on that report, the Kirbys changed their plans to make them compliant. 
  • Then they went to Heritage Committee who approved the project with some suggested changes. They changed the plans again.
  • They sent out the required notices to all residents within 300 feet of the property, requesting comment and input on the design. The next-door neighbor, Dennis Sundman, complained that his view was being restricted. The plans were revised again to address this concern.
  • Then they went to the Design Review Board. The project was again approved by a vote of 4-1, subject to further changes. The Kirbys complied and modified the plans for a fourth time.
  • Sundman, with support of Cathy Jurca and other Village Laguna board members, appealed the Design Review decision to the City Council.
  • On Dec. 1, after nearly four years, the City Council denied the appeal and approved the project by a unanimous decision of 5-0.

Five weeks ago, Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition, and Sundman’s own newly organized Historic Architecture Alliance, sued the Kirbys, Todd Skenderian, and the City claiming they violated CEQA Guidelines because they didn’t do enough to protect the historic elements of the property. Seriously? The Community Development Department says they’ve done enough. The Heritage Committee says they’ve done enough. The Design Review Board says they’ve done enough. And the City Council, including our beloved Toni Iseman, unanimously says they’ve done enough. And where has all this gotten them? An expensive lawsuit. To which I say, enough!

These and other lawsuits, either pending or to come, are causing incalculable collateral damage. How many families who would love to move into a potentially historic home in Laguna will now think twice about it? How many families who were thinking about renovating their older home will decide to just move on? How many older properties that should be restored will continue to deteriorate (like the Kirby’s) because owners are scared they’ll get sued for trying to do the right thing?

How long can the Kirbys last? The lawsuit and appeals could last years. At incredible personal and financial cost, they have run the regulatory gauntlet to get their project approved only to have misdirected preservation zealots sue them in order to have them do still more. The Kirbys told me this process has pushed them to their financial and emotional breaking point. What more can any rational, compassionate Laguna resident expect of them? I’ll tell you. You can expect them to fight. They love Laguna. They love the historic property they’re trying to save.  Any reasonable resident who believes in bringing and keeping good families in town should support them. Anyone who favors rational renovation of historic properties should support them. Support them. Say enough!

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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I find it very disheartening that the Kirby’s are having to deal with this, They have done everything and more to comply with this most difficult city when it comes to building permits, all the bureaucracy that this town entails. The thought of someone suing them is so beyond mean I cannot even absorb the thought. Whomever is suing must have big bucks to do this as well as no heart. We use to have a town full of kindness.

  2. Thank you for writing this piece for the Indy supporting the Kirby’s. Hundreds of other Laguna Beach residents have been similarly fianancially damaged and had their dreams delayed for years by the fanatical and bullying actions of groups like Village Laguna, and now the latest Historic Preservation Coaltion. The members of these fringe groups are in my opinion financial predators who try to impose thier views on everyone else, and are out of step with the far majority of Laguna Beach who support the voluntary historic ordinance of Laguna Beach which was fully debated and vetted for years before its successful passage. My apologies to the Kirby’s for the stress and financial burdens you have had to endure, and continue to endure, at the hands of these people. These bullying groups are are a blight on our town.

  3. I didn’t quite understand why Councilman Blake would go off on some of the long time “pillars of the community “. Then I started to become aware that these long time Laguna residents have their vision and if you don’t bend to their vision you became a target , like him & the Kirby’s. I uses to say :
    1. Respect the Past ! Embrace the Future!
    2. Let’s Invigorate! Not Stagnant!

    Then I saw a quote from Will Rogers:

    DON’T let Yesterday take up too much of TODAY!

    This lawsuit needs aggressively fought for positive growth of our neighborhoods.I’m on a mission to expose who’s behind this legal action .

    Go to LagunaNeighbors.com for more of the Kirby’s ordeal.

  4. I am deeply disappointed by the seemingly endless and unnecessary roadblocks being thrown upon the Kirby’s by this alliance of residents and non-residents.  Your article doesn’t address what the specific issue(s) that are creating the resistance.  As a part-time Laguna resident living in a 1975 duplex with little to no historical value, I would like to throw my support behind the Kirby’s, but would first like to better understand what historical genocide they are commiting to yield such a troublesome response from a small group of people.  It seems they have done everything expected of them to move forward with the renovations.  Please further enlighten me and the community by being more specific as to the nature of the items that are in dispute.

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