Opinion: LRF Ballot Initiative Brings Value for All of Us


By David Raber
The group that put together the LRF Ballot Initiative started by looking carefully at Laguna Beach—not through the eyes of commercial real estate developers—but rather through the eyes of Laguna residents. Residents are here for a variety of reasons: to raise a family, or start a career, or retire from a career. There are many different reasons for living in Laguna, but we all have something in common. We bought into a place that we feel strongly about and that we all love. We also gladly paid a premium to spend our days in this wonderfully special place that we all call home.

When we travel through other towns in Southern California it is easy to see the contrast between what is there and what is here. We see and understand the vision that commercial real estate developers have for towns like Newport Beach, Irvine, Dana Point, Marina Del Rey, Brea, and Huntington Beach. Perhaps larger-scale redevelopment was needed in those towns.  Laguna Beach looks and feels different to residents. We know that it is worthwhile putting common-sense guidelines into place that allows the town to evolve with the times, but also with a deep respect for the scale and aesthetic that is essential to the unique value of Laguna to residents, merchants, restaurateurs, and visitors alike. There are a myriad of overdeveloped coastal cities, so why add Laguna to the list if we don’t have to?

Joe Hanauer views the LRF Ballot Initiative as a set of burdensome “tripwires” designed to ensnare developers. Actually, the Ballot Initiative is a set of guidelines so developers can clearly see the opportunities for development that are in touch with the unique human-scale premium value we have here in Laguna. Smart people can make money in most any situation as long as there are a clear set of rules that are uniformly enforced.

The Ballot Initiative’s guidelines are for large-scale commercial development. They cover six areas: building height, parking, gross floor area, traffic, lot size, and the overall cumulative impact. These are the common components of universal land-use laws. We are not inventing any wheels here.

The fact that there are often multiple dimensions to land use laws is no odder than the multi-dimension space we use when evaluating food, wine, entertainment, politicians, or automobiles. Using automobiles as an example, there are criteria we all have for efficiency, durability, safety, design, range, maintainability, comfort, handling, and capacity. Would anyone have patience with an auto manufacturer who whines about the public “unfairly” wanting competence in all of these areas?

In the case of height limits and parking requirements, the LRF Ballot Initiative’s guidelines are codified directly from regulations that have been in place here for decades but which are now being liberalized by the City Council. The remaining guidelines were the result of a thorough analysis of specific commercial sites in Laguna Beach, capacity planning studies commissioned by the City, discussions with land-use experts and urban economists, and a review of successful resident-initiated ballot initiatives that have been enacted in places like Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

Each of the guidelines was carefully analyzed for its impact on proposed and future projects.  Building size, for example, requires that entirely new commercial buildings (apartment buildings, retail, restaurant, or any combination of those) need to be less than about half the size of Hotel Laguna. Think about it. That is still a very large new building. Isn’t that about the size of something that would be at the outer limit of the Laguna look-and-feel? These are all common-sense guidelines.

The proponents of the LRF Ballot Initiative stand behind the carefully designed guidelines that comprise the LRF Ballot Initiative.

We encourage Hanauer, as well as the other responsible developers who have set their sights on new development projects in Laguna to re-read the LRF Ballot Initiative. Rather than try to convince us that developers would be better off with a free rein on redeveloping Laguna, consider the alternative. First, look for existing properties in town that could be renovated rather than scraped. The LRF Ballot Initiative welcomes the renew-and-reuse of existing properties. Second, if scraping and rebuilding is necessary, bring reasonable projects to the table that fit within the guidelines. Your efforts will be rewarded two-fold. First, you will be doing the right thing for all of us who love Laguna. Second, your properties (and everyone’s properties here) will be worth more in the end because everyone is following the guidelines that are designed to retain the unique value that Laguna brings to those who live and visit here.

David is a Laguna Beach resident and principal officer of Laguna Residents First PAC.

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  1. David, can you please
    be more specific on who is trying to “convince us that developers would be better off with a free rein on redeveloping Laguna?” And what tactics they are using? Or is this just more incessant fear mongering?

  2. David, THANK YOU and everyone who gave input in the development of the LRF Ballot Initiative. This “protective legal resource” is what can happen when regular LB locals get involved to address serious issues impacting our city. Well done!

    As we have witnessed already, there’s no shortage of those who put self-interest businesses and future development projects before residents needs and desires. They prefer to put their energy into manipulating our government leaders, systems and voters. Their self-interests are very clear.

    I believe LB voters are too smart to fall for such pro-developer/investor community team player rhetoric. In fact, voters stood strong against them in 2020. IMO- this is a combination of folks that strapped us with 4 years of pure hell living through the chaos-driven and unfit leadership of Peter Blake and overly-influencing city leaders and staff. And this is an election year – lots at stake for developers/investors to keep their 2018 candidates Blake and Kempf in place. Join me in voting for a change to resident-centric leadership. Thank you.

    Don’t let this voting opportunity go by. You get one chance to have your stakeholder voice back this November. #YESLRFInitiative, #voteforleadershipchange,

  3. David, I attended last week’s Resident’s First meeting in North Laguna. You spent over a hour trying to explain your initiative. I remained confused afterwards! At the end of the presentation Toni Iseman stated she read it couldn’t understand it but would give your phone number to anyone interested so you could explain it to them. Wow! If an longtime experienced City Council member couldn’t understand it ,how could the average voter??

  4. I have a copy of both the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP-over 100 pages) and the Laguna Residents First Initiative (LRF-over 10 pages), and have read both closely. Did any of those who object to the LRF initiative, which reproduces our past City codes EXACTLY, complain about the obtuse language used in the DSP? Come on, people, get real. You haven’t read either one closely if at all. Developers just want to protect their right to earn big bucks by building jumbo commercial developments at the price of residents’ enjoyment of their property and community, and by using residents’ taxes to pay for extra parking for these jumbo commercial developments.

  5. Deborah, please provide an example of someone, anyone, anywhere, anytime, endeavoring to build a “jumbo commercial development” in Laguna. What on gods green earth are you taking about?

  6. Deborah Laughton Weiss: You’re right about one thing: very few voters will have read either the Downtown Specific Plan or the LRF PAC Initiative. Yet however obtuse you find the DSP, it’s a model of clarity compared to the LRF initiative. Unlike the initiative, the DSP went through a long, community-wide process which included people with decades of professional expertise in land use planning and policies. The LRF initiative was cobbled together in the dark by people with no expertise in land use planning and with no community input. Yet you want the voters to trust that you know what’s best for the town. I agree with Pat Gallis: Our most experienced City Council member has said she’s read the initiative, but doesn’t understand it. That’s a devastating admission and one more reason the voters will reject this effort by well-meaning amateurs to dictate the future of Laguna.

  7. Ah, Mr. Quilter. While I may have a multi-decade career in publishing and editing, I would love to be assured that the DSP was written by people, who were not marketing types, but that had decades of experience in urban and neighborhood planning. Alas, it didn’t look like they had that intense amount of training the last time I looked, but maybe you could help by providing some evidence? As for the community input on the DSP, you aren’t referring to those little, opaque plans with bullet points that were posted for discussions during business hours when most of us work? You’ll remember, the one at which they said we had plenty of parking downtown for the promenade and you agreed–until you heard about the recent Church parking lot structure and changed your mind and decided that a rented (versus City owned) parking structure was just what the downtown needed? The entire DSP vetting process reminded me of the recent CC meeting of 6/7/22, Agenda Item #14 at which the RRM Design Firm, who is working on design concepts for the “Promenade”, boasted that they talked to ALL STAKEHOLDERS, which they listed as business owners, City staff, utility companies, first responders, and public officials. Not one interview with residents, which leads one to wonder who is supposed to be visiting the Promenade and paying for it?

  8. The DSP may be over 100-pages but the Coastal Commission Review of that document is 325-pages. Here’s an attempt to make the Coastal Commission Review palatable for readers, the content is presented in chart form. Topics of interest dear to Laguna residents are described by keywords, for a topic of Affordable Housing the keywords may be “InDeed” or “shared parking” or “single-family”. For a given topic the charts show the number of times a keyword appears in the document, in this way readers can see how well a given topic is supported by relevant keywords.

    The charts show certain planning implementation measures were well represented, for other topics like mobility, affordable housing, Vision 2030 Actions and Strong Town housing measures the DSP falls flat. See https://lagunastreets.blogspot.com/2022/01/coastal-commission-review-laguna.html


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