Opinion: Positive Change in Laguna

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“No” just doesn’t cut it anymore

By Jeff Redeker

Recently, a working group was created and the work product that came out of the committees efforts is the Economic Revitalization Plan. Michele Monda was very critical of the efforts and described them in her opinion column as “Autocracy in Action.” I have to disagree.

First, no one forced the council to vote on the agenda item. The agenda item was split into sections and each section was proposed on its own. All but one of the sections was approved unanimously. The one that wasn’t approved unanimously was approved 4 to 1. Second, the suggestion that residents were not heard from is inaccurate. Every member of the committee is a resident of Laguna Beach. Several are also business owners and/or commercial property owners. I believe their perspectives are very insightful since they are actually dealing with the COVID-19 fall out every day and will be for the foreseeable future. Understanding what the city can do to assist the businesses and the people they employ is incredibly relevant since the vacancy rate continues to rise in our commercial districts, which will require new businesses to occupy those locations. 

I understand that persons from special interest groups and political action committees may have felt shutout from this conversation. When creating an advisory group, it is important to select members who have perspective and professional experience specific to the objectives of the committee—not everyone gets selected. City staff and councilmembers work with people who get things done and do not drag out or obstruct any positive change the committee wants to propose for our city. The full council still has the ability to strike down the proposals or send them back to the drawing board. That did not happen in this case, because these are well thought out ideas and temporary changes paid for with the funds already allocated for the Downtown Action Plan.

When looking at any issue in Laguna, there is never unanimous public support. The best that can ever be hoped for is to get 60-70% support for an item. Although there are some businesses who may not be supportive of the Economic Revitalization Plan, it is temporary and certainly worth giving it a try. As a long-time resident, I look forward to grabbing a paper at the newsstand, a coffee at Moulin and relaxing outside on Forest. I would also enjoy grabbing some new board shorts at Hobie’s or Quicksilver and then meeting up with friends for outdoor dining on Forest. I think this is a good idea as a resident that likes to walk and shop downtown regularly.

Anyone can create a committee and propose a plan then contact a member of our city council, who I have found to be accessible. Any council member can take your proposal and make an agenda item out of it. The group of people who are opposed to the Economic Revitalization Plan have no ideas being proposed and to my knowledge, no committee work in process. These people have only one word for all proposals and that word is “no”. Well in the new normal of COVID-19 reality, “no” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Autocracy is when one person has uncontrolled or unlimited power over others. Pietig exercised that when without authorization he created the Working Group. Who then went on to self select members with the same pro developer agenda – no balancing voices heard. Residents – yes they are. All with the same pro new business viewpoint instead of asking what our existing merchants want. Merchants on Forest took out an ad saying they didn’t want this closure. But this self serving group plowed on and got it passed by a lazy City Council. No questions were asked. The major objection, aside from downtown merchants, not the restaurants, wanting this is the COST. Where was the balance when this was dreamed of? For the $121K in lost parking revenue and the $315K of taxpayer money I want a detailed accounting of this experiment. It’s easy to say yes isn’t it when it’s not YOUR money. “I understand that persons from special interest groups and political action committees may have felt shutout from this conversation.” Are you kidding?? It’s ALL a special interest group and political action group that created this plan. How hypocritical can you be? Developers and their money are being aided by willing self interested groups that formed this working group. Wake up Laguna – it is being stolen from you for the almighty dollars of the developers with their Change Laguna agenda. Welcome to Dana Point North.

  2. Mr. Redeker. The “working group” (or advisory group now?) you describe was stacked together by City Manager John Pietig and his ACM Shoreh Dupuis in concert with the Chamber and local investors/developers. It’s members were “handpicked pro-development” folks. Total inside job. Stack the deck and get the results intended. And since it appears to be organized by our City management and a City Council member was involved, no one, even CC members will question it. Easy Peasy.

    Ever work as a city government employee Mr. Redeker? For those of us that have…this unfortunately is an example of how things are done to circumvent constituents. No transparency required. No Brown Act violation concerns either since the “working group” is just that, a non-appointed CC group just tossing around ideas. Beautiful set-up. And we wonder why Laguna Beach City Hall has a major reputation for being untrustworthy and non-transparent. Another eye-opening concern was when a resident asked CC Kempf directly if she took part in a conference call before the May 12th meeting with local business owners/developers where some mention of getting around residents opposition to the ERBD Plan was discussed? When this was not denied, it spoke volumes. I’m still not clear on her answer.

    As we are witnessing at each CC Meeting, the only agendas being embraced and being pushed forward in our town are those directed by the City Manager via the Chamber of Commerce, Visit Laguna and local developers. No all LB residents, property taxpayers and registered voters are included for input about our city nor are their needs and desires being considered. It’s special interest only these days. This is all about increasing tourism and a building a new parking lot.

  3. This group should have been appointed by the City Council and its meetings held publicly to provide the greatest level of transparency possible. Saying that residents were included because business owners are residents is disingenuous. Two thirds of the city’s revenues actually come from property taxes. And most of us actually work out of town in order to pay those taxes. This article overlooks the fact that controversial issues weren’t supposed to be taken up during the crisis. It leaves out the enormous amount of money–$153,000–that was poured in to the last city council election by special interests. By the time the public became aware of this plan, it was so far along as to make true public input superfluous. Several alternative plans were brought up and sensible questions asked, all of it too late, it seems. The Working Group members were hand-picked by the Chamber–the same Chamber of Commerce that is now refusing to divulge who exactly contributed $20,000 of the $35,000 parking structure study money. The city should withdraw their $15,000 until the public knows exactly who’s behind this public-private partnership. The fact that the Chamber is refusing to do so is a red flag. If there’s nothing to hide, then why hide? Any rising vacancy rate is likely due to sky-high rents, considering this was–and continues to be–an issue. Finally, the reason many residents are opposed to this expensive plan is that it is seen by many as a possible dry run for permanently closing Lower Forest, the prettiest street in town, and essentially giving the public right of way (the street) away to private interests. Residents are right to object to the loss of 46 parking spaces. They should be angry that they might no longer be able to park in their own downtown. And they should be furious that the once again, the city seems to be pushing yet another costly project that benefits very few at the expense of the majority. Especially when pedestrian malls all over the country have been an abject failure and in dozens of cases, even removed. We support our existing restaurants and businesses who depend on nearby parking. We say yes to saving them by preserving every remaining parking space left in the downtown area, not taking away 23 more spaces, as called for in the $14 million dollar Downtown Action Plan. We say yes to keeping our parking requirements in place. Not removing them as called for in the Downtown Specific Plan. Removing parking restrictions means new businesses will compete with existing ones for limited parking. It won’t help our struggling businesses. It will put them out of business.

  4. Good Job Jeff!
    Don’t worry about Michele Mondo she complains about everything and doesn’t do anything to change anything. It’s the same bunch of complainers if you notice they complain everywhere online where they use their computer sitting at home and do nothing else.

  5. Good luck with “grabbing a paper from the newsstand”…

    Nearly impossible to pick up a newspaper from a newsstand since the newspaper industry has gone under an incredible renaissance overnight, and no longer deliver extra copies to newsstands, or very few, if any at all.

    It’s very sad what has happened to news print, voices all over America have essentially been silenced.

  6. Ken Hanzlik – Just another Real Estate Agent hoping to capitalize on the overdevelopment our our town? Makes sense now. I guess you don’t read my columns where I do in fact make suggestions. My column exposes the abuses and lack of transparency in our City Government and groups trying to influence policy. Blinders can be a hindrance when looking for the truth.

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