By Cody Engle
Measure Q (aka Laguna Residents First) advocates say that their goal is to require a citizen vote on “megaprojects.” I agree that a citizen vote would be appropriate on truly large development projects. However, of the six “triggers” in Q that require a vote, only one relates to project size. The others address parking, project traffic, cumulative traffic, lot size and building height.
If Q was in force today, the proposed 1,450-square-foot coffee house at 500 Broadway St. would should require a citizen vote. The vote is required because, after various allowances, the project would be eight parking spaces short of meeting Q’s “reasonable” parking requirements. (Supporters of Q have long complained that the city is derelict in requiring “reasonable” parking, and they believe Q will solve the problem.)
But wait, there’s more! Such a small store does not look like a “megaproject” which requires a citizen vote. So, to seem more rational, Q supporters claim, “Well, we don’t mind the parking space shortfall here.” Their proposed workaround is a provision in Q that allows the Planning Commission to waive parking requirements if it finds a “commensurate public benefit” (a coffee house?) and “no impact to parking.” The proposed project will turn a four-person office into a 16 seat coffee house. Since it is unlikely the Planning Commission could make a legally supportable finding of “no impact to parking,” the owner would have to wait until November 2024 (unless he wanted to spend over $130,000 for a special election) to see if his “megaproject” coffee house would be approved.
With COVID-19, City Council allowed restaurants to expand their seating outdoors. Most of us feel the Council acted in a timely, sensible, and responsible way. Outdoor dining not only saved the restaurants, it has turned out to be very popular. If Q had been in force, each outdoor dining expansion would have required a public vote. It would have taken months to organize, campaign and vote, all at a significant cost. In the meantime, many of the restaurants would have closed, probably never to reopen.
Managing a dynamic city such as Laguna Beach takes knowledge, talent, and effort. Imagine if the city were a business that had to secure a vote from thousands of stockholders every time the business wanted to add a new product, service, or make a price change. And the stockholders vote could only occur every two years in a regular election or at a significant cost for a special election.
A required citizen vote to approve many projects—large and small—is not the right solution. We will always have the right to demand a vote on actual (and rare) megaprojects, like we did with the Montage Referendum.
The best way to govern this town is to elect City Council members who represent your views. The upcoming election allows voters to choose a majority of the Council. That is the better way to assure that our town continues to be the “almost perfect” place that it is.
Engle is a member of the City’s Housing and Human Services Committee.