By Joe Hanauer
Recently 24 fellow citizens and I sent a letter regarding the Laguna Residents First (LRF) voting initiative to Mayor Bob Whalen. Since some people may form an opinion on LRF based on sound bites rather than thorough investigation, we thought it might be beneficial to share our letter.
First of all, a few comments. We respect the intention of the LRF editors. In fact, we agree with some expected results. No project over 36 feet without exception. Sign us up! No block of high density monolithic developments that conflict with the ‘village vibe’ and scale of Laguna. Sign us up!
However, several LRF criteria go way too far. Here are a few :
- Small 1,500 square foot retail stores converting to grocery stores or restaurants with daily increases in 200 car trips require a public vote. Think about it. A public vote after years of an expensive City approval process. Small businesses then have to spend over $ 100,000 on voting and promotion fees with no idea how the public will vote.
- Projects greater than nine apartments. Would we ever add apartments of more than nine units if a public vote is required?
- Combining lots totaling 7,501 square feet. Lots that would include a new 7,501 square foot lot are considered substandard, so why not allow two substandard lots to be combined without the time, expense and risk of a public vote.
- Major improvements of 22,000 square feet or more. Old Pottery Place would not exist today. You could say it’s a big project and the voters would have approved it, but there was opposition throughout the city process. If it had required a public vote after a three-year municipal process and continued negative disinformation from activists, we could not have continued it.
No investor will spend time or money taking the risks associated with a public ballot. Yet the aging of our business districts would continue to deteriorate and the innovation and creativity that shaped today’s Laguna will disappear. Investment will be stifled.
It is not just the extra time and money that is the problem. This is because the results of the ballot are a direct reflection of astute publicity, costly and often misleading promotions and slogans, compared to the merits of a proposal. There are many examples of what happens to a community when the investment stops. After a decade of decay, knee reflex reactions lead to hyper development. It’s just what we want to avoid but that’s a discussion for another time.
Here is our letter to Mayor Whalen.
Dear Mayor Whalen,
As you well know, signatures are being solicited by some of our Lagoon compatriots for a ballot proposal called Laguna Residents First (“LRF”) which would require, among other actions, that each time several types of real estate development applications be submitted. , (including fires at stations and other public facilities), the public would be required to go to the polls and vote if the development were to be approved. Remarkably, thousands of Laguna properties would be subject to a public vote whenever certain changes to a property are proposed. In addition, as part of the ballot, the public is invited to revise in technical detail the parts of the City’s municipal code that govern all property improvements within the City.
We, the undersigned, agree with some of the fundamental concerns expressed by some supporters of the proposed ballot (the âProposalâ). We oppose large-scale block developments that would totally change the âvillageâ character of our city. Where we diverge is how to address these concerns and how to ensure that such a development does not occur.
Being opposed to such developments, we believe that most Laguna residents would agree that while being charming, there is ample room for improvement in our shopping areas. Many structures are nearing the end of their useful life, and older buildings designed and built long before the era of online shopping are no longer functional. Careless owners often neglect the maintenance of their properties often brought about by the bureaucracy involved in trying to improve them. We believe there are opportunities to enhance the charm of Laguna without affecting the aesthetics of the village and without significantly altering the overall scale of our business districts.
These right-sized improvements will not happen with the general additional proposal paperwork applied to all commercial districts and many residential developments. The last thing we need is to add a long and expensive layer of review – including voter approval – on top of an overly complex authorization process. We need the public, landowners and investors to have a clear vision of what can be developed and encourage – not deter investment and innovation. In our view, the answer is to strengthen, where appropriate, gaps in existing land use controls that would allow developers to avoid restrictions and seek approval for a project that is inconsistent. with the scale and aesthetics of the village of Laguna.
For these reasons, we ask Council to ask City staff to analyze the existing land use review processes and determine if any such deficiencies exist, recommend modifications as well as other mechanisms to strengthen the development review process. The following are just a few examples of additional requirements that could be taken into account for larger developments.
- Stricter parking requirements – For example, rather than allowing projects beyond a predetermined size to benefit from artificial parking capacity based on some historical decisions unrealistic today, parking being granted rights acquired could be reduced or eliminated so that appropriate parking for projects that can seriously affect traffic will be provided.
- Improved environmental requirements – For example, for projects beyond a certain size, additional requirements could be added to require trees, solar considerations, durability, and efficient heating and cooling retention.
- Public contribution – For example, in order to ensure that public input is taken into account before the planning commission and council analyze proposals of a given size, a citizens’ forum could be proposed, which would allow a contribution to be made before a proposed vote. Public participation in such a forum would not be limited to two or three minutes.
- Height Limit – Make sure the 36ft height limit, if any, is preserved.
At the end of their study, we suggest that staff report their findings and any recommendations to Council. If the Council determines that such recommendations would indeed better control large-scale development while not unduly affecting beneficial development, the Council would create a counter-vote initiative to be provided to voters so that they can have an alternative to the LRF proposal .
We thank you for considering this request and urge you to move it forward quickly.
Kathryn Burton and Glenn Gray
Nancy and Tom Gibbs
Jane and Joe Hanauer
Barbara and Greg MacGillivray
Lisa and John Mansour
Steve and Marissa Robbins
Kristin and Steve Samuelian
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