The Downtown Specific Plan workshop led by MIG Consultants was enlightening, providing an excellent opportunity for public comment. The public, staff, and a few business owners were present. However, notably absent groups were the actual owners for major pieces of commercial properties in downtown. Many of these owners are absentee and live elsewhere. I would submit their lack of inclusion in all the planning could subject it to another failure. After all, they actually own the commercial property, not the public and business owners (who, for the most part, are renters).
The Lumberyard property, the downtown theater, and coastal side property from the Hotel Laguna to The Cliffs complex have several things in common. First, the original owners/developers are deceased. Second, the current owners inherited all these properties. Third, all the owners live a long way from Laguna (Beverly Hills, Northern California, Malibu) and do not participate in any city function. Fourth, because the property was inherited, Proposition 13 values are in play with assessed values at least 50% below market. Fifth, because the inherited properties have low assessments, the property taxes are a fraction of current values and the revenue contributes little to the city’s tax base.
So what does that mean to the actual residents? First, why should these absentee owners care about the current planning? They pay a pittance in taxes, collect extremely high market rents from a transient business community, and have little (or no) motivation to engage with the city. In fact, there is some speculation that some of the inherited property owners have opened up discussions with the city about high density development along the beach.
Hello, City Hall planning staff. Hello MIG. Anyone home and paying attention? How about engaging these major (absentee) owners who could make or break any planning underway now?
Victor Opincar, Laguna Beach
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