Opinion: Honarkar Stops Measure Q Light

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By Gene Felder

The following is not the Laguna Residents First board’s position, but mine. 

Laguna Residents First is a grassroots organization formed to preserve Laguna’s quality of life and give voters a say in development. Its supporters collected 2,679 signatures, and its ballot initiative Measure Q was on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot. The City Council voted 3-0 on July 19, 2022 on a resolution opposing Measure Q. In addition, the City Council was encouraged to craft an opposing ballot initiative. The result was that Ordinance 1675 was approved on Aug. 16, 2022, by a vote of 3 to 2 (Whalen, Kempf & Iseman for, with Blake and Weiss against).

This ordinance states that a building cannot be longer than 125 feet, but then states that “Longer building lengths may be approved by the Planning Commission.” 

Not so good, but it might curtail rooftop decks on new buildings as it included, “No element of a new building shall exceed thirty-six feet in height, including but not limited to rooftop elevators, equipment, furniture, and other design features”.

Not addressing parking or intensification of use, we thought Ordinance 1675 was “Measure Q Light” and unacceptable as the public could not vote to overturn when the council did not enforce the law, namely parking requirements. However, local businessman and investor Mo Honarkar moved successfully to stop it by gathering sufficient signatures to qualify for referendum to repeal the enactment of the ordinance.

It’s tough to fight City Hall even when, by law, they are to remain impartial. Former City Attorney Phil Kohn had the duty to write an impartial analysis for Measure Q, but what he wrote was false and misleading in the Voter Information Pamphlet. 

This included “A majority of the ‘Laguna Beach Electorate’ (commonly defined as the total number of registered voters) voting ‘yes’ is required to approve a project.” 

This caused quite a distraction, and instead of us using time to explain the initiative, we were bombarded with questions about the word “electorate.” 

It is difficult to understand how a city attorney could write such a statement. We all know that propositions and measures do not require a majority vote of all registered voters but rather a majority of those actually voting. His research should have quickly disclosed that such an interpretation has never been upheld by the California courts. The California Attorney General opined definitively on a similarly-phrased initiative in 1983, construing the 1978 Proposition 13 “is also in accord with the almost universal rule that, “where the requirement is that the issue by approved by a prescribed majority of the qualified voters of the municipality, or other language of similar import, the decision usually hold that a vote of the majority of all the qualified voters is not required but only the requisite majority of the qualified voters voting at the election.”

The Attorney General also noted that the United States Supreme Court adopted the interpretation in Carroll County v. Smith (1884) when interpreting a provision that required “two-thirds of the qualified voters of such county,” to “require only two-thirds of those voting, not two-thirds of the registered voters.”

The City did not stop there. The city clerk determined that the post office was a polling place, making us move our Measure Q outreach table. The police threatened to arrest Measure Q volunteers working a table between City Hall and the Farmers’ Market. I guess it was nice that our volunteers refused to move and the police did back down.

News to us was, in the May 24, 2024 Indy, Doug Vogel revealed “As the former treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce and member of the board … I can also attest to the fact that $20,000 was spent of membership funds towards fighting the Measure Q initiative without my knowledge or approval and that the members should have been notified that their dues and contributions were going to be spent this way.”

At the May 28, 2024 meeting, Whalen, Rounaghi, and Kempf voted to repeal Ordinance 1675. But I supported putting Ordinance 1675 on the ballot. For no other reason than rooftop decks are really an additional building floor blocking the views of others. I think that the restrictions on the visibility of the umbrellas and equipment in Ordinance 1675 should have been kept. So, I supported putting it on the ballot and letting the citizens, those voting decide. You know, let Laguna vote.

Gene Felder is Treasurer of Laguna Residents First and the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, President of the Top of the World Neighborhood Association, and is Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley’s appointee as an alternate member of the Coastal Greenbelt Authority which oversees the Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks. Gene served on the Board of Directors of the Laguna Beach Historical Society from 2001 to 2014, serving as President from 2001 to 2006. He is co-author, with Foster J. Eubanks, of the 2013 book “Laguna Beach, Then & Now.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Gene,

    Hopefully we all learned from that campaign. It caused a huge division in the community and I unfortunately didn’t help either.

    What we need to do is figure out how to move forward positively without sides. Businesses and residents as one voice protecting Laguna. We all suffered from what happened with properties owned by Honarkar. We all suffered from the City taking sides on different issues and trying to undermine the vote of the people.

    It’s a dirty little town, and time to bring out the brooms and dust pans.

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