Opinion: Musings on the Coast


Response to ‘Seeking Balance with the Ballot Initiative’

At this point, I feel like a dartboard for Village Laguna vitriol. The latest entrant is Michele Monda, who in a Nov. 12 Indy column painted me as “developer Michael Ray… seeking financial gain…” by destroying Laguna’s special old-town charm. How she figures this I have no idea, but she sure seems sincere in insisting her group’s No Growth Initiative is The Holy Grail.

But before I proceed, I would like to contest Monda’s credibility. She lives in a gated micro-community consisting of three houses. According to Zillow, each house is worth more than $8 million, and her house clocks in at $9 million. It has four bedrooms, six baths, a multi-car garage, pool, Jacuzzi, a great view from its perch on the hill, contains 6,004-square-feet, and with an architectural theme screaming classic Irvine-style “Mediterranean.”

Meaning, Monda has it made. She is not even bothered her house belongs in Newport. Not even old Newport. It belongs within the Irvine Co.’s new Newport Coast McMansion developments, all secluded, guard-gated, and with the same Mediterranean architecture as hers.

So Monda sure does not practice what she preaches.

But let’s go into the real reason behind her No-Growth initiative. Until the elections of 2018, Laguna was tightly controlled, and I mean tightly, by one small group: Village Laguna. Their acolytes controlled the City Council, Planning Commission, Design Review Board, Heritage Committee, and all other commissions and committees that run this city.  Their control was beyond tight; it was all consuming—almost cultish—and in truth, they ruled by fear.  If you wanted something they did not, they inundated the City Staff and City Council with so many complaints—all sent by the same small group—you had no chance.

On the political side, they were and are dirty. Their oft-repeated claim that developers (hey, like me, remember?) want to turn Laguna into downtown Huntington Beach is a beauty in political propaganda. Someone repeats The Big Lie often enough and people believe it.

To justify the new No-Growth Initiative, she writes: “We need balance that comes with resident input.  I trust residents to decide—not just three pro-business, pro-tourist, pro-developer [there the Big Lie goes again] controlling votes by city councilmembers whose campaigns have been funded by the well-financed PAC Laguna Forward.”

Interesting comment. Does she really believe anyone controls Councilmember Peter Blake, or Mayor Bob Whalen, or the retired business executive Mayor Pro Teem Sue Kempf?

And where was Monda for the last 40 years when Village Laguna controlled the City Council and all the committees? Why is she complaining now, and not then?

It has to do with power: Village Laguna has lost it and is on the wrong side of popular sentiment. In my opinion, Village Laguna’s actions show it opposes the downtown promenade, outdoor dining, re-opening of both Hotel Laguna and the White House restaurant, and even fast-tracking cosmetic improvements along the blighted Coast Highway corridor.

So let’s get real. Village Laguna held absolute power in this town for almost four decades, has lost it, and now is going nuts.

The No-Growth Initiative is an outgrowth of that. If it wins, city staff has identified over 30 projects that would require a full vote of the city. This includes downtown retailers making even minor changes, like adding a coffee bar to their services. Public referendum on all these is not “citizen involvement.” It is public chaos.

So enough with the charade. Village Laguna has lost its power, and now is perpetuating its nanny state, no-growth ever agenda via a very flawed initiative. Don’t buy into their nonsense.

Michael is a volunteer columnist for the Independent and an officer emeritus with Laguna Forward PAC.

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  1. At what point is it fair to call someone out for knowingly lying; not merely coloring comments in favor of one’s point of view; but purposely misleading one’s readership? It’s hard to define definite ‘out-of-bounds’ markers, but most of us know once such lines have been crossed. Mr Ray has definitely crossed those lines and with that, I believe his participation as a “volunteer (opinion) columnist” should be re-evaluated by the Indy editors:

    * keeps running away from the developer label; “…Their oft-repeated claim that developers (hey, like me, remember)?”. Ridiculous for Mr. Ray to run away from the developer label when his own filings with the FPPC/FEC list his occupation as alternately: “J Ray Development/developer”, “Self/Real Estate Developer”, “Sanderson J. Ray/Developer”, “Owner, Sanderson J. Ray Development”.
    * repeating data from early City analysis of the LRF BI which has been explained as not being valid (i.e., 30 projects that would require full vote…)
    * stating that “Village Laguna held absolute power in this town for almost four decades…”. Hyperbole is one thing, but such outlandish falsehoods shouldn’t see the light of print
    * “…Village Laguna’s actions show it opposes the downtown promenade, outdoor dining, re-opening of both Hotel Laguna…”, without providing evidence or nuance to positions
    * “…on the political side, they were and are dirty…(referring to Village Laguna)… Evidence please, preferably in the form of indictments, lost legal proceedings, etc.

    How does this guy retain any credibility at all? I’m all for a fair & honest debate (live or in these pages), but to allow such whoppers of untruth in these pages on an ongoing basis does a disservice to readers.

    To the editor(s) of the Indy: how long do you allow someone who’s very loose with the truth free reign on your opinion pages? Opinion is opinion but outright falsehood should be restricted.

  2. Simple question to Michael. Would the White House and Slice developments require a city-wide vote? In a previous column you cited those two specifically of why we need a ballot initiative. Please let us know as your marketing for your ballot initiative highlights “major developments.” Slice and White House are not major developments. So please clarify your position.

  3. Will – I’ll respond to your query once you lay your cards on the table. What is your line of business and who are your top 3 customers?

    I’ve been very transparent about my “skin in the game”, in that I’m a retired LB homeowner with no financial interest in any LB business. I will not profit or lose financially regardless of whether the LRF ballot initiative becomes law or not.

    I believe in order to have a dialogue, I need to know your financial interests before answering your questions because you seem to be very beholden to the tourism and/or real-estate dependent business community.

  4. You can’t answer a simple question about your proposed initiative. Quite telling. I don’t have any “customers” and I am a marketing executive. In the past, my customers were all tech companies, not related to any development. I am just a concerned citizen wanting to better understand your initiative. Please explain how the Slice and White House are considered “major developments.” I believe the community would love to know.

  5. Michael Morris, first you accuse Michael Ray of lying, then when asked a straightforward question that can only have a single, objective answer, you demure. Does that mean you would employ alternative facts depending on the political position of the questioner? Do you not see how duplicitous this is? How do you defend the fact that the ballot initiative would require citizens to vote on small projects, like the conversion of a store to a restaurant, such as Slice? Or a remodel of a single restaurant, like the White House? I’m confused over how the answer would be different depending on whose asking? You’ve lost the right to accuse anyone else of mendacity.

  6. The parking requirements for both WH and Slice’s requested intensifications-of-use would be clearly defined as per section 25.60.02 (L). Just as occurs currently, both properties would request enhancements to the existing parking concessions they currently enjoy/exploit. If you read section (L10)Credit (pg 7), you’ll see that new parking credits/concessions will still be granted by the PLANNING COMMISSION as is currently the case. No “vote of the people” is involved unlike was incorrectly assumed by City Staff and which Mr. Ray continues to claim in his repeating of the “30 projects…” mistruth.

    The only thing that has changed wrt the granting of parking credits (historical, sidewalk cafe, etc) is that Planning Commission will be held to a new standard:
    “showing that commensurate public benefit can be demonstrated and it can be shown that there is no impact to parking or noise in adjoining neighborhoods.”
    You see what the BI is trying to do there? Its trying to force consideration of the interests of resident neighbors! Shocking concept, given that currently PC grants parking concessions without regard for impacts on neighbors.
    So, what’s different? PC must abide by the new “resident interest” standard. What’s also different, is that ANY resident can appeal a parking concession decision by PC to the City Council.
    So Mr Radtke: on the basis of parking intensification neither Slice Pizza nor the reincarnation of WhiteHouse would force a vote of the people. Can we put this falsehood to bed once and for all now?

    PS I’m choosing to ignore Mr. Fried’s ignore-worthy comments because, as usual, they add nothing positive to the discussion.

  7. The City Staff itself identified 30 projects that would require city wide vote. And yes, this applies down to small stuff.

    Also: a lot of push back, guys, when YOU get called out. You certainly can give, but not take.

  8. And there’s the tell, ladies and gentlemen. “Planning Dept will be held to a new standard” by their new overlords, Laguna Residents First. And now any resident can appeal a parking concession decision? Oh lord, way to bollocks up the works of an already overly tedious process. Yes Michael it’s very clear you are retired and never endeavored to start a business here. And btw, what if a store is converted to a restaurant and it is estimated to generate an additional 200 car trips per day? Does that trigger a community wide vote? And do you consider that a mega development? Since you won’t answer me. I’ll make it rhetorical: according to the BLOZD ballot initiative, the answers are yes and yes.

  9. Yes, finally. Thanks for being honest about. It is not about bulldozing downtown or blocks long projects. It’s about parking/control. Everyone would want to vote on Slice and The White House, said no one ever.

  10. Michael+Ray wrote:
    “ The City Staff itself identified 30 projects that would require city wide vote. And yes, this applies down to small stuff.

    Also: a lot of push back, guys, when YOU get called out. You certainly can give, but not take.”

    Mr Ray; it seems you simply choose to ignore the explanation provided, and choose to rely upon City Staff’s original review. Of the 30 projects they flagged, 19 were due to parking concession demands. And as i’ve explained (but you & Mr Freid have chosen to ignore), lack of necessary parking fulfilled by concessions is not up for a vote. It is a PC function, to be guided by a new standard. “Called out”? I don’t think so.

    I guess this reasonable, but resident-fairer approach isn’t as palatable to those such as yourselves who hope to mislead voters with fears of a tsunami of special elections.

  11. Michael Morris it’s not a fear of a “tsunami of special elections,” It’s a fear that the process is so expensive, burdensome and time consuming that we scare would-be entrepreneurs with fresh ideas away, this freezing us in time with stale retail offerings. I assume that’s what you want, but I don’t believe the majority of people who live here do. And we don’t want those merchants to be stymied because of lack of parking. We want new ways of getting around to obviate the need for cars.


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