Indy columnist Michael Ray has a long, positive history with Councilmember Peter Blake and recently wrote a piece defending him.
In order to defend Blake, it is not necessary for Mr. Ray to malign others. He could just say why he thinks Peter Blake is a good person and councilmember.
Instead, he bases his support of Blake on a shared distorted view of Village Laguna, a group he apparently loves to hate.
Village Laguna is a volunteer organization that is dedicated to preserve and enhance Laguna Beach’s village character. Blake and Ray may not agree that that is important, but most of us who have decided to continue to make Laguna Beach our home value the special qualities that make our town unique and delightful—often termed “village character.”
Sometimes to preserve and enhance village character Village Laguna points out to decision-makers when a proposed project would diminish or harm that character. Village Laguna seeks other solutions—not harm to applicants as Ray implies.
The Blake application in 2001 that Ray cites in his column is an example. Fetneh Blake applied to remodel the building at 427 N. Coast Highway for her women’s fashion business. City online files show that her architect, Anders Lasater of Mark Singer’s office, proposed to modernize part of a 1920s motor court building and remove an archway connecting the store to the adjacent store, Laguna Print.
They filed an application on March 14, 2001. A Design Review hearing was scheduled on April 4 and was held on May 10. At that meeting, several pages of petitions objecting to the remodel were submitted as well as letters from Village Laguna, the Laguna Beach Historical Society and Laguna Print. The Historical Society letter states, “(the building) is one of the more charming examples of Laguna’s old “motor courts” originally built to provide housing for tourists. The existing façade provides not only a link to Laguna’s past and history, but makes the two commercial uses visually pleasing and provides an arch to the inner court yard. The design is charming and is the type of architecture people visit Laguna Beach to experience.”
The Board agreed with the public comment and objected to the proposed changes. The Board continued the meeting to June 14, when the applicant requested a continuance to June 28. At that meeting Lasater wrote, “We no longer wish to remove the arch or change the lines of the existing building in any way. Instead, we proposed to restore the front of the building and maintain the art deco styling of the facade.”
The Design Review Board unanimously approved the revised project. There was no appeal and the city wrote a Design Review approval letter on July 5, 2001. An approval in a little over three months—hardly “more than a year longer than necessary” as stated in Ray’s column.
The revised/restored design apparently functioned just fine for the clothing store as the business was operated there for 18 years, and only recently relocated to Crystal Cove. Had the Blake’s part of the building been modernized to suit the design ideas of that particular business, historic character of the complex would have been lost. Thanks to the input of many members of the public, the Heritage Committee, the Historic Society, and Village Laguna, the historic character of the building was retained. It continues to tell the story of how Laguna Beach responded to the needs of the influx of motorists on Coast Highway after it was constructed in 1926—while continuing to provide a viable location for local business.
Ray says that this public input to save Laguna’s environment is “bullying” and speculates that it has cost hundreds of millions of dollars to unsuspecting applicants. What has cost continuing frustration and dollars is the seemingly unreasonably long permit process at City Hall. The three-week staff review prior to qualify for scheduling for Design Review that the Blakes experienced in 2001 is rare today—most reviews take much longer. Start to finish, Blake’s review took less than four months. Somehow, Village Laguna is not only blamed by Ray and others for all public testimony questioning applicants’ proposals—but is also blamed for these delays. It is within the power of our Council, Mr. Blake included—not Village Laguna—to improve these processes at City Hall.
Public input to protect Laguna’s environment is our civic duty. Laguna Beach is a treasure, we must conscientiously decide how to shape our future, considering today’s needs while we respect our past, and the beautiful setting we have inherited.
Rather than harsh words, personal accusations, and instructions from Blake that people whose comments he doesn’t agree with should “step aside” and let others take the town in a different direction, let’s see if we can solve our problems in a cooperative spirit. We all have something to contribute to sustaining Laguna as the town we love.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and member of the City Council.
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