Village Matters

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Carrots Needed

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Have you complained about cell phone antennas being located too close to homes? About the impact of sober-living facilities in residential neighborhoods? Second residential units added to single-family houses without design review? Only to be told that the city is required by state or federal laws to issue ministerial permits for those projects and that there is almost nothing the public can say about them.

If Governor Brown’s “By right” housing provision is approved there will be another category of projects that will be beyond the city’s control—high-density housing.

In order to facilitate housing developments and provide affordable housing, Brown wants to reduce delays and costs in processing plans by local government. His provision would require ministerial rather than discretionary review for multiple family housing.

Ministerial permits are required to be issued if a proposed project meets all the basic requirements of the code. Ministerial review is ordinarily applied to over-the-counter building permits like fences, roof replacements, plumbing, electrical, and small first floor additions. Staff review is all that is required, no public noticing or input, no application of criteria like the design review guidelines.

Discretionary review, on the other hand, provides for public input and examines projects in relation to general plan policies and guidelines that require evaluation and judgment. Is the project neighborhood compatible? Does it achieve view equity? Are the heights appropriate for the setting? These are the evaluations that Design Review, Planning Commission and Council make week after week. Despite the slow pace, personal frustrations and long meetings we appreciate the results—there is control on how our city develops overall, and we have a forum for adjusting projects that will affect our living environment.

Discretionary projects are subject to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but ministerial projects are not. They don’t have to be analyzed in relation to their effect on the environment.

How do you get around CEQA? You determine that categories of projects are ministerial instead of discretionary.

“The proposal allows developers to get their projects approved by city staff in an expedited timeframe based on whatever general plan and ‘objective’ zoning criteria are in effect, and even authorizes staff to approve zoning changes, zoning variances and conditional use permits without public review,” the California League of Cities analysis states. Rather than giving local governments some carrots — dedicating more state funding to help provide or incentivize affordable housing — the governor is proposing to undermine public input, environmental analysis and design review.

The village character of our city is at stake. Laguna’s 36’ height limit will be in jeopardy. More density and larger buildings in our neighborhoods could be approved and we could experience even more traffic impacts from virtually uncontrolled densities in neighboring cities.


From the beginning Lagunans have respected our city’s setting, fostered its artistic atmosphere, and inspired sensitively designed developments. Local thoughtfulness, generosity and control have produced a desired and enjoyed environment for all. We have supported low-cost housing and shelters. We can do more. With assistance rather than mandates we can both meet social needs and keep the character of our town.

Please email our state representatives:

Governor Jerry Brown

Senate President pre Tempore Kevin de Leon

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon

74th District Assemblyman Matthew Harper

District 37 State Senator John Moorlach









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