Opinion: LRF ballot initiative is the right solution at the right time


By David Raber

In his column last week, Joe Hanauer, representing his view as one of Laguna Beach’s developers, expressed concern about the Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative. In his view, the Ballot Initiative was designed to make traffic worse by “prohibiting” parking structures as well as designed to make the town less safe by “prohibiting” additional fire stations.

It is true that the LRF Ballot Initiative will allow residents to review and vote on major construction projects. It is also true that some commercial developers, including what Hanauer wrote in his column last week misrepresent what is actually in the LRF Ballot Initiative.

Parking structures: Contrary to what Hanauer thought he heard or read, there is nothing in the LRF Ballot Initiative that prohibits parking structures. The Ballot Initiative’s 22,000 square foot Gross Floor Space limitation does not apply to garages at all. The existing Laguna Beach Municipal Code Section 25.08.12 states “Floor area, gross means the sum of the gross horizontal areas of the several floors of a building, excluding areas used for garage purposes…”

Parking garages would, of course, have to conform to existing height limits, but not to floor space limits. If, for example, a  50-foot tall parking garage was proposed, wouldn’t residents want a say and a vote on that proposal?

Fire stations: Contrary to what Hanauer thought he heard or read, there is nothing in the LRF Ballot Initiative that prohibits fire stations. Many fire stations in and neighboring Laguna Beach are between 2,500 and 8,000 square feet with only about a third of that being crew and administrative space that would count toward Gross Floor Area. By extrapolating other fire stations, you would need over 50 firefighters in one building to come close to the 22,000 square feet of Gross Floor Area. Who would do that? Or who is going to need a fire station over 36 feet tall? There are many existing lots in town that can accommodate our typically-sized fire station so fire stations can easily be accommodated as our town’s needs grow.

Trying to conjure up a fire station that would be larger than the Ballot Initiative’s guidelines is a trite scare tactic.

Small apartment buildings: Laguna Beach is blessed with many small apartment buildings that are close to town, and provide much-needed housing for a diverse population. In addition, several places in town may benefit from converting retail to apartment buildings. The Ballot Initiative fully supports this. What Hanauer said about a 10-unit apartment building on an existing 7,501 square foot lot requiring voter approval is a broad overstatement.  If someone wanted to tear down a row of existing stores to combine the lots to make a very large apartment building, then yes, residents would have a say.

How large of an apartment building can someone build before needing voter approval? The math is easy. Many apartment buildings in town have a collection of one-bedroom units averaging around 650 square feet and two-bedroom units averaging around 1,000 square feet Ten of the two-bedroom units and 15 of the one-bedroom units would easily fit into the limit of 22,000 square foot of Gross Floor Area. Those 25 units would also easily fit under the Ballot Initiative’s standard of incremental trips generated. Most of the existing apartment buildings in Laguna are under this size, and new apartment buildings of that size would not require a vote.

Don’t be confused by the multi-family exemption that the Ballot Initiative also grants. Small apartment buildings of nine units or less are completely exempt. Larger buildings, such as the 25-unit building estimated above would also not require a vote, as long as they meet the existing height and other building standards.

Again, trying to conjure up an apartment building that is over the LRF Ballot Initiative’s limits is a partial-truth scare tactic. Those who know and support the Ballot Initiative welcome reasonably sized projects, such as the 25-unit apartment building in the example above, as well as the conversion of some retail spaces into residential spaces, as market needs dictate.

The proponents of the Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative stand by the balanced constraints that are contained in the Ballot Initiative. Laguna will certainly change and evolve with the times. The Ballot Initiative will provide a reasonable set of guidelines so that developers will bring our town well-thought-through plans that are compatible with the unique environment and value that Laguna brings to residents, merchants, and visitors alike.

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

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