Opinion: Unintended consequences of writing initiatives by committee


By Joe Hanauer

David Raber, is the main author and defender-in-chief of Laguna Residents First (LRF). When someone challenges the content of the highly technical LRF proposal David seems to be called on to defend it. But instead of defending LRF, his response to my recent guest opinion, Stuck in Traffic?, is a perfect example of how remarkably damaging the initiative would be.

His response selectively explains how one provision of LRF won’t impact parking garages as an example but fails to reference other provisions that would in fact trigger the requirement for a public vote.

It’s critical to understand. LRF has several tests that would apply to a development. Consider these as “trip wires”. The trip wires are designed to stop most new projects. If a supporter says a project may be exempt from a trip wire such as parking requirements, there is another trip wire pertaining to traffic or number of trips that will. If neither of those two stop a reasonable project, then a prohibition of lot combinations will stop it. I can go on. There are several more.

So, without getting hung up on these technicalities, its important to understand. While LRF proponents may be correct in stating a project won’t be subject to one LRF provision it likely will be impacted by one or more other provisions. LRF states it will only stop large projects. That’s simply not true. This may have been the intention at the outset but when you write something by committee without experience in land use matters and with multiple objectives you end up with unintended consequences. You end up with LRF.

And this brings us to the biggest overriding problem beyond the multiple trip wires. When a public body like a city council or senate pass a bill and it’s flawed, it can quickly be amended. It can be corrected within the chambers of the voting body. Not the case with LRF. If passed by a public vote this November LRF can only be changed by another public vote sometime in the future or by a court. Laguna would be stuck with LRF for years and during that time needed investment in Laguna will be put on ice. No one who might have been willing to go through the current lengthy and expensive standards which have controlled over-sized development for years will wait around to invest in Laguna while we try to get our house in order.

Read the initiative at lagunaresidentsfirst.org.

It’s not light reading. That’s why you likely have not and will not read it in its multi-page entirety. Yet we voters are being asked to approve a proposal that will bring needed upgrading of our aging commercial buildings to a halt and limit the number of apartments that can be built.

LRF says that its proposal is not intended to replace the City’s code. Again, a play on words. Laguna’s code will indeed remain but then, after it’s been applied, the LRF code takes over. If the project hits any of the trip wires in the LRF code the project would go to a public ballot possibly a year later. A new, highly technical code aimed at freezing properties and we citizens are being asked to be ruled by it.

Jane and I have lived in Laguna for 40 years. Prior to this LRF ballot initiative I don’t recall having written any local opinion pieces. We tend to weigh in through other methods. We have a great town. When I open Stu News or the Indy I prefer reading what’s going on rather than getting mired in the nastiness. But LRF is so potentially harmful I’ll continue to speak out until fellow Lagunans passive on this topic understand the extreme damage it will cause.

Editor’s Note: Joe owns multiple Laguna Beach commercial properties where he’s completed multiple major renovations and remodeling. Among them is the Old Pottery Place and 580 Broadway.

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  1. I guess the developers’ high priced consultants have determined that Joe is the best “face” to put forward; he seems to have become the spokesperson for the deep pocketed folks hoping to avoid residents’ taking a measure of control over their city’s future. The question each Laguna beach voter needs to ask themselves is who should I trust? Joe/deep pocketed developers and landlords with a huge financial interest in ensuring the LRF ballot initiative fails, or the grass-roots group of residents with almost no money to spend who work so tirelessly to ensure Laguna doesn’t lose its charm so that a few get to line their pockets.

  2. So how did we get into this mess with visitor traffic, parking shortages and another regulation remedy by Ballot Initiative? The remedies proposed address the “HOW” to implement solutions to Laguna’s problems, they do not address the “WHY” by one means or another. Laguna consistently substitutes “HOW” solutions for why policy without every meeting the requirement from “WHY”.

    The WHY is written in public policy documents called the Municipal Code – Laguna’s last updated once since 1974, 48-years ago. Laguna’s code has been wholly neglected and rendered obsolete for the problems Laguna faces in 2022 much less 2030.

    In contrast, Los Angeles has embellished their Municipal Code with several other plans to address Mr. Hanauer’c mobility crisis, but in LA not Laguna. LA has ten additional plans, among them a Mobility Plan Network, a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, a City Planning Commission 5-year Strategy (for Mobility). Laguna Beach has none of the ten plans Los Angeles does.

    Since our City refuses to make the LB Municipal Code relevant, the remedy proposed by well meaning residents is the LRF Ballot Initiative; for better or worse another “HOW” remedy, another regulatuon layer to compensate for the delinquent policy layer underneath.

    Twenty years ago the Vison 2030 Strategic Plan published by Laguna Residents set mobility planning for visitors and residents as a Goal. Under RESIDENT AND VISITOR MOBILITY it says “Do an urban design for Coast Highway that balances capacity with safety, amenity, and community and accommodates pedestrians and bicycles.” (Same for Laguna Canyon Road). Today the plan could include transit. Here we are twenty-years later talking about the virtues of parking structures to avert a Motorist Crisis-in-the-Canyon. Like LA’s plans the Vision 2030 plan was never approved and adopted as part of our Municipal Code and remains unbinding.

    From 1905 to 1945 the Yosemite Valley RailRoad serviced the valley, back then the smartest people replaced the train with automobile traffic and now Yosemite has a traffic and parking crisis. In Yosemite like Laguna, parking fees are substantial city revenue compared to retail and the reason both villages are reluctant to abandon motorists for transit riders. It’s also the reason LB Public Works have never performed an economic study of transit or rail serving Laguna Beach.

    LB City should stop dictating HOW and answer WHY.
    Yosemite Valley Visitor Traffic

    LA Planning Mobility Plan


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