Opinion: Positive Change for Laguna

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Knockout punch, or a great comeback?

By Jeffrey Redeker

Quarantine, work-from-home, shelter-in-place, lockdown and so many other phrases we hear daily are encapsulated by the closing of many businesses here in Laguna Beach.  Our commercial districts in town are struggling. We all see the restaurants we love to patronize working very hard just to keep skeleton staffs employed while working through a myriad of federal programs intended to help them. This is so real in our town. 

We all have a vested interest in thriving commercial districts in Laguna. The time to act is now, but it’s going to take more than federal loan programs to make a lasting difference. Many businesses are closing for good due to COVID-19, many others are still in doubt and welcoming any new businesses seems implausible.

Imagine, for example, I had a great idea to open up a deli on Beach Street. Can you see it? Right there between Hapi Sushi and the Copy and Print Center. Imagine I had the capital, the foresight and the ambition to step into the Laguna Beach market in the post COVID-19 era. We would serve sandwiches made with meats smoked all day, topped with bread baked fresh from an imported brick oven. Daily specials, gourmet toppings, reasonable prices – the exact kind of casual dining Laguna Beach residents want and need. Doesn’t that sound great?

Although I am sure this shop would be welcomed with fanfare, in order to open it, there are several hurdles to overcome before a single nail would be hammered. Many of these hurdles are solved in the proposed revisions to Laguna’s Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). There is one simple thing the City Council can do right now to speed up our economic recovery after this over: pass the revised DSP.

Currently, businesses that are located in the downtown specific plan area have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). One requirement of a CUP is to identify and stay within a structured product mix. Recently, a local shop owner had to endure months of back and forth with the Planning Commission just because he wanted to sell Laguna Beach-branded shot glasses, which was ultimately denied. Instead of this, we need to allow our businesses to be nimble and manage their products based on demand. Passing the DSP would eliminate regulations on product mix and have an immediate positive impact on existing businesses, plus make it easier to attract new businesses. Proprietors would be able to increase and decrease product lines based on what sells, seasonal products and other economic factors.

Another change in the revised DSP is parking restrictions. Currently, the DSP requires five spaces for every 1,000 square feet for bars and restaurants, and three spaces for every 1,000 square feet for retail. The buildings in our downtown were never designed with these restrictions in mind. The city offers in-lieu parking fees which means,  if you are not able to obtain the proper number of spaces, the city will sell you a space at the rate of $20,000 a space. The problem is even if they buy the space, no new space is immediately created; it’s just a fee paid to the city. Passing the new DSP and relaxing the parking requirements is another step forward in supporting our small businesses. It would demonstrate a City Council that is in touch with modern times and modern methods of transportation. There are other changes proposed as part of the DSP amendments that are worth consideration, but these two are a good start.

Jeffrey Redeker is a commercial banker and 38-year resident of Laguna Beach.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This is a parking structure disguised as a column.

    Jeff’s answer to downtown’s parking problem–eliminate requirements altogether—hasn’t worked in other towns last time I checked. It just makes it harder for everyone to park and get to struggling stores and restaurants. So we’re going to make it even harder on them to survive?

    Unless he’s referring to a map from the 1920s, I don’t know how the author can make the assertion that “the buildings in our downtown were never designed with these restrictions in mind.” For decades, the city has tried to play catch up on the parking. Good luck with that: the “Visit Laguna” campaign–combined with the relentless build out of Orange County–has ensured a steady stream of year-round visitors. That in turn has driven up the demand for city services.

    Pushing passage of the entire DSP to amend the CUP while dangling a pastrami sandwich is disingenuous: the restaurant application isn’t the same as a retailer who wants to sell trinkets. The Planning Commission considers what’s already in the mix. There isn’t a deli downtown so what’s his beef?

    Anyway, the CUP could be revised apart from the DSP. They just packaged them together to get everything passed—eliminating height restrictions and allowing massive, block-long development—in one fell swoop.

    And BTW, the people who complain “there’s no nice place to shop in Laguna” really won’t like the subsequent conversion to tourist traps if the CUP is dismantled. That’s why, month after month, merchants go before the Planning Commission begging to add Laguna-branded merchandise. That’s what sells.

    What modern methods of transportation is the author referring to? Unicycles? Electric scooters? Because that’s all that we’ll be able to park downtown if the flawed DSP passes.

  2. Trish, It appears that you have become quite the critic of the City, it’s finances, the Downtown, and its businesses and property owners. I’m wondering what qualifications you may have to assert your opinions as fact and not just those of an opinionated activist. I’m wondering.

    Do you own or operate a retail business in town?

    Have you ever operated a retail business in town?

    Do you own or lease commercial property in town?

    Have you ever owned or leased commercial property in town?

    Are you a qualified retail consultant or an urban consultant? If so, where have you worked and are you currently working in the industry? Please describe all extended education you’ve engaged in that would enable you to advise our community on its retail prospects at a time when brick and mortar is imploding.

    Do you engage in academic or scholarly discourse that your colleagues use for their studies? (mind-numbing written statements written by obstructionist activists do not count)

    Are you a tastemaker? Influencer? How many Instagram followers do you currently have?

    Are you an accountant? CPA? Forensic Accountant? Have you ever audited a City budget? Are you qualified to opine on a hundred million dollar budget? If so what are your qualifications?

    Are you a member of Village Laguna or any of its proxies including:

    TOWNA
    CANDO
    South Laguna Civic Association
    Temple Hills Community Association
    Friends of the Canyon
    Laguna Residents First

    Do you actually shop in the downtown and support local retailers? If so, how often and how much do you estimate you spend annually?

    Finally, when did you purchase your home and how much do you contribute annually in property tax?

    Trish, let’s cut to the chase! I’m exhausted with you and your cronies (John Thomas, Michael Morris, MJ Abraham,etc..) spinning facts and statistics, making disparaging comments about business owners, especially restaurants and bars, property owners, City Staff, appointed and elected officials and anyone that disagrees with your archaic views and unqualified observations. Stop pretending that you are capable of navigating our downtown out of its decrepit state. Please, get back on your scooter and go home before you embarrass yourself any further!

    Best,

    Peter

  3. Peter, it appears that you have become quite the proponent of ad hominem attacks. I’m wondering what scares you about her comments that you chose not to respond to her arguments and instead attack her character. Let me break Trish’s comment down and give you another chance to properly respond:

    1. “Jeff’s answer to downtown’s parking problem–eliminate requirements altogether—hasn’t worked in other towns last time I checked.”

    Can you please provide some examples where eliminating parking restrictions/regulations has worked out well for other towns/cities?

    2. “Pushing passage of the entire DSP to amend the CUP while dangling a pastrami sandwich is disingenuous: the restaurant application isn’t the same as a retailer who wants to sell trinkets…the CUP could be revised apart from the DSP”

    Can you please refute her statement here or let us know why the DSP must be passed instead of amending the CUP separately?

    3. “the people who complain “there’s no nice place to shop in Laguna” really won’t like the subsequent conversion to tourist traps if the CUP is dismantled.”

    Can you please let us know what business and product mixes will rise from the ashes of COVID-19 and the passed DSP?

    4. “What modern methods of transportation is the author referring to? Unicycles? Electric scooters? Because that’s all that we’ll be able to park downtown if the flawed DSP passes.”

    What modern methods of transportation do you propose the tourists from inland OC towns use to patronize our wonderful town that also alleviates the parking problem? As a millennial e-bike owner, I think we’d all be better off using these modern methods of transportation, however, I don’t think anyone over 40 should be on an ‘e-anything’ because they are much more dangerous. What are your thoughts on this?

    And finally, before you decide to take the simple ad hominin attack approach on me, let me enlighten you of my qualifications to break down an argument and write a comment on a local newspaper comment page. I currently work for one of the big four accounting firms advising global financial institutions with revenues and budgets many times larger than that of LB. If I ever responded to a client stakeholder in the manner you just did to Trish, I would be fired on the spot. The LB voters will have to make that choice about you soon enough. Perhaps my best qualification, however, is my freshman year college rhetoric class. There, I learned about common logical fallacies and how to avoid them. It seems I have more qualifications than you in that regard. We will patiently await your response.

  4. We can all be trying to think of ways for residents and businesses to navigate this period. Here’s a possible source of help for local businesses during this time. Many of the downtown commercial buildings where local businesses rent space are owned by people who have owned these properties for many years, pay old low Prop. 13 level property taxes, may have little or no mortgage debt, and as we hear all the time, collect high rents. Now is an opportunity for those owners who can afford it to help their tenants, the community, and probably themselves by being creative and aggressive in working with their tenants to help them through this period. The help could extend beyond rent concessions to broader help of the businesses themselves. While some costs of a business are fixed, others are variable, and some of the variable costs are more variable than others. A rent concession can help with a substantial fixed cost, but using some imagination, some property owners could also help their tenants, if they wanted, with loans or other arrangements to help with some of the other costs which could help the businesses survive until there is a recovery. More than merely helping the tenants, they will also be helping themselves if their alternative is losing a good tenant and then having to try to re-lease that space – possibly at rent levels lower that today’s – in the coming months as the economy recovers. Some may already be doing this. Others might consider it.
    But this is not the time to quickly push through the DSP. That will not help anyone. The CUP and parking issues raised in the column are valid issues and warrant a good and open discussion community-wide – something that is hard to accomplish in this climate.
    By the way, the parking ratios quoted in the column are not those in the current code, and one good reason a $20,000 per space parking in lieu fee does not result in an immediate actual physical parking space is that the true cost of acquiring the land and constructing a parking stall far exceeds that number. Think more like $100,000 or more per space to actually create a new parking space where there was none before.

  5. Trish Sweeney, thank you for your input. Hopefully Mr. Redeker who offered up his opinion to the public will respond to your input and thought provoking questions. I don’t know Mr. Redeker but I would like to understand his thinking on getting the DSP passed without addressing some of the issues that concern many. All or nothing isn’t the answer. Mr. Redeker?

    John Thomas, thank you for your detailed thoughts and input as well. I’m quite sure you will be praised by many and suffer the wrath by those who don’t want you exposing such concerns and realities.

    Peter Blake: As usual, all you offer is rude and inappropriate input. Do the right thing in the best interest of our city. RESIGN.

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