By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Growing concerns about a slate of hotel and other commercial developments in Laguna Beach brought about 200 residents to the “Summit to Protect Laguna” on Tuesday at Neighborhood Congregational Church.
The event was co-hosted by 15 local non-profits including Village Laguna, Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization, Laguna Beach Beautification Council, Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition, the Laguna Beach Democratic Club, Laguna Greenbelt, Transition Laguna Beach, and South Laguna Civic Association.
Organizers wanted to hear from residents about the challenges and possible actions to preserve the city’s architectural heritage, protect the environment, and prevent over-development. Instead of having hundreds of attendees step up to a microphone, they were instead asked to write their thoughts on Post-it notes and stick them to posters related to the three topics.
Joe Gordon, 24, said he ran for vice president of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club after learning the 112-room Cleo Hotel project would block the sunlight and ocean breeze from entering his apartment at 671 Glenneyre Street. When the project came to the Planning Commission last year, Gordon was among the group of residents who protested.
“I asked them, ‘Is this project within the spirit of Laguna Beach?’” Gordon said.
At that meeting, the Planning Commission recommended Mo Honarkar’s 4G Ventures scale down the project to the maximum of 84 rooms allowed under the Municipal Code. Some of the commissioners also argued that Honarkar’s plan for 223 spaces, including three levels of underground parking beneath the hotel, wouldn’t be able to accommodate all guests and employees, forcing some to park on already-crowded streets.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman briefly addressed the audience saying that overdevelopment is not just a Laguna Beach issue, but one for all Orange County coastal cities. She also criticized an argument from her ideological opponent on the City Council, Peter Blake, that residents associated with Village Laguna shouldn’t be appointed to city commissions or committees because of the nonprofit’s long history of opposing large-scale development in downtown Laguna Beach.
“It’s been said, ‘Let it be known that Village Laguna should not be involved on any committees at all,’” Iseman said.
City staffers’ continued exploration of designs and costs for undergrounding utility lines and adding pedestrian paths and bike lanes on Laguna Canyon Road has also captured the attention of nonprofits that want to preserve the 22,000 acres of wilderness that surround Laguna Beach.
Bob Borthwick, a board member for Laguna Beach Greenbelt, said his organization supports the creation of bike lanes and rural pedestrian paths that improve access for residents and tourists to access the canyon’s natural beauty. The Greenbelt should be protected not just because of the wildlife that lives there, but because it provides relief for those looking to escape Orange County’s congested freeways and suburban sprawl, Borthwick said.
“It’s the priceless feeling of serenity that is experienced when one enters the canyon,” he said.
Summit attendees anonymously offered a wide range of suggestions to manage future development in Laguna Beach. Among these was the establishment of a war chest to sue the city and developers if projects aren’t sufficiently mitigated under the California Environmental Quality Act; earmark funds from developers for parks, pools, and other activities for locals, and insist that the new senior planner recruited by the Community Development Department has experience in historic preservation.
One of the more intriguing ideas was a ballot initiative that would require the approval of Laguna Beach voters for development proposals that exceed certain height and density limits.
Lara Horgan, president of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club, said that summit attendees might not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in political campaigns, but they do have strength in numbers when they show up to public hearings.
“We have our love for Laguna, our dedication, our commitment, our passion, and all of you,” Horgan said.