I am one of the many Laguna Beach residents opposed to staff’s recommendation that City Council accept a $250,000 donation from developer Mo Honarkar to fund a planner position, in anticipation of several large development projects his company will bring forward. I am also one of many annoyed by City Manager John Pietig’s comment regarding the public outcry, quoted in last week’s Independent, that “this item is misunderstood.” There is no misunderstanding. The January 22, 2019 staff report, submitted by Director of Community Development Greg Pfost and approved by Pietig, explicitly states that “Mr. Honarkar has offered to donate $250,000” “to help the City be better prepared to process these projects, and others” and “to provide resources to begin a dialogue regarding possible public benefits associated with expected major development projects.”
We should all be grateful for staff’s surprisingly transparent gloss on this gift: the money is designed to accelerate review and to think about how to sell the public on the advantages of these projects. The conflict of interest is self-evident; it is also worth observing that the role of the city is to evaluate objectively the impacts and costs as well as the benefits of development, not to solve knotty public relations problems for developers.
It is almost beside the point whether Mr. Honarkar intended the money not as a donation but as an advance payment (in essence, a loan) on the project fees that will come due eventually. Many residents believe that deep-pocketed developers are amassing too much power over local government and the future of Laguna. These concerns crystallize in Mr. Honarkar, because he has such big plans for a growing portfolio of properties throughout Laguna, and because he helped to bankroll Liberate Laguna, and its vicious and destructive attacks, to elect candidates to Council that a handful of major developers viewed as most favorable to their interests. Mr. Pietig and Mr. Pfost have provided tantalizing evidence that residents are right.
Cathy Jurca, Laguna Beach