Council will review owners’ rights to cut down trees without permits

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council will review on Tuesday the right of private property owners to cut down trees on their own land or in adjacent public-rights-of-way without city permission.

According to a staff report the council clearly has the right to regulate trees in the public right of way, but may be on shakier ground when it comes to regulating the removal of trees on private property.

“I do believe property owners, especially in Laguna Beach, should have the opportunity to design their own landscape plan and unfortunately, sometimes trees reach maturity or don’t fit in,” said resident Karl Koski, former city manager of Temple City. “Requiring a permit is an erosion of private property rights.”   

Councilman Rob Zur Schmiede raised the issue of regulation at the June 27 meeting following the owner’s removal of trees at Ruby’s Diner in South Laguna.

“We have had a lot of losses in last-minute and weekend cutting,” said landscape architect Ann Christoph, who supports a permit process. 

Property owners may not be aware of city policies on removing trees

“The trees at Ruby’s are gone, but if we had a permit process there would be a public review and evaluation. The property owner might even reconsider removal after hearing public comment.” 

Property owners are not always aware of city policies on removing trees, and those policies do not address all removals, according to staff.

The council must approve removal of Heritage Trees. Removal of trees in a landscape plan approved through the design review process must be approved by the Design Review Board or the Planning Commission. Removal without permission may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.

Removal of privately maintained trees in the public-right-of-way may be removed only if perceived to be at risk of failing, under the term of an interim policy adopted by the council in 2016. The policy applies only to trees in danger of failing. 

If the council directs staff to prepare a new ordinance, penalty for removal without permission could result in an administrative citation or prosecution for misdemeanor and replacement of the tree at the owner’s cost. 

Each removed tree would be a separate violation. Currently citations escalate from $100 for first violation, to $200 for the second and $500 for the third.


City Manager’s Update

5th Annual Flood Prevention Device Practice Installation Day - In an ongoing effort to assist with the implementation of the recently adopted Floodplain Management Ordinance, the Code Enforcement Division has notified the Laguna Beach property and business owners located in the flood hazard zone of the upcoming 5th Annual Flood Prevention Device Practice Installation Day. This is a voluntary educational emergency preparedness training event encouraged by FEMA.  

All persons employed to work in a business located within areas of special flood hazards are requested to be trained by the business owner on how to install the flood prevention devices and be provided a copy of the flood contingency measures plan. Each year on the fourth Monday in October, the business owner and employees are encouraged to practice installation of the flood prevention devices. Therefore, Monday, October 23 is designated as the fifth Annual Flood Prevention Device Practice Installation Day.

Parents’ Night Out - Parents, call it a break from the kids; kids call it a break from your parents. The City of Laguna Beach is hosting its quarterly Parents’ Night Out on Friday, Oct 20, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Community & Susi Q Center, 380 Third Street. Parents can enjoy some adult time to see a movie, catch up with friends or enjoy a kid-free meal. 

The children will have a blast enjoying games, movies, arts & crafts and dinner. Cost: $20 per child, $5 sibling discount available. Pre-registration is required 48 hours in advance. To register, call (949) 464-6645 or visit, www.lagunabeachcity.net click “recreation classes.”

Smart Gardening Series - Pumpkin succulent centerpieces can add a beautiful, long lasting display of colors and textures to your holiday table. Learn how simple it is to create your own unique centerpiece in this free workshop. Join Master Gardener, Aneta Dorhout on Sat, Oct 14 from 9 to 10 a.m. at the Community & Susi Q Center, 380 Third Street. To register, call (949) 464-6645.

El Toro Road - SoCal Gas Advanced Meter DCU Installation Project - SoCalGas will install its advanced meter related equipment on the north side of El Toro Road, approximately 870 feet east of Laguna Canyon Road. The work is scheduled for Oct 16 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

During construction hours, a portion of El Toro Road will be reduced to one lane. A portion of the bike lane on both Northbound and Southbound directions will be closed between Laguna Canyon Road and State Route 73. For additional information, please contact Shaun Baptiste, from SoCalGas, at 562-305-2977.


Commission denies approval of Coast Inn project

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Planning Commission didn’t like the revised proposal for the Coast Inn any more than the original submission in March.

Commissioners unanimously voted on Wednesday after about three hours of testimony to recommend the City Council deny approval of the project. The commissioners voiced concerns about the proposed roof-top deck, which includes a swimming pool, and the extent of the project, which they felt verges on a major remodel and does not conform to the current city code.

“I was surprised and pleased with the commission’s decision,” said project opponent Barbara Metzger, a former planning commissioner.

Development Department staff had advised the commission to recommend approval of the project to City Council.

The project still will go to the council because it includes parking credits for historic preservation.

Parking was an issue with many opponents of the project and a parking study was mandated in March, now completed. 

Project architect Marshall Ininns said the Coast Inn has 98 spaces grandfathered in for the hotel, 12 spaces grandfathered for the liquor store, plus 13 actual spaces. The remainder of the required parking would be fulfilled by Uber, Lyft, private vans, trolleys and buses, he said.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy LB Historical Society

The original Coast Inn with iconic tower

“This is a perfect opportunity for Laguna to preserve one of the historical icons and prevent it from being lost forever,” said Ininns. 

Coast Inn owner Chris Dornin is no stranger to controversial projects. He partnered with Louis Longi in the battle for approval of an artist work/live project in Laguna Canyon, opposed by the Friends of the Canyon. 

“Commissioners missed a significant opportunity on Wednesday to beautify this blighted neighborhood and to put significant restrictions on the project,” said Dornin, born and raised in the HIP District of Laguna. “They had the opportunity to put 54 conditions on the project and limit the property to 300 people.  

“We could open the Boom Boom Room tomorrow with 597 people in it, live music or a DJ and about 200 cars parked in the neighborhood.”

The project as presented to the commission on Wednesday still included a request for a variance to restore documented towers and the original sign on the hotel that disappeared decades ago and the swimming pool on the roof of the hotel, but eliminated the pool deck, spa, gym, and conference room in the defunct store on the corner of South Coast Highway and Mountain Road, according to Ininns. 

“Our future plans depend on the outcome of the City Council review,” said Dornin. 

The entire staff report on the Coast Inn project, more than 200 pages long, is available for review on the city website, www.lagunabeachcity.net. Click on City Meetings and Agendas.


City Manager’s Update

Downtown Specific Plan Update – Review Draft Amendments (Section III, Topics 10-11): The City of Laguna Beach and consultant MIG will continue their efforts on the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) Update on Wed, Oct 4, during the Planning Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. 

The Planning Commission will review and discuss MIG’s recommended draft amendments to Section III: Issue Statements and Policies, Topic 10 (Civic Art District) and Topic 11 (Central Bluffs) of the existing DSP document. 

A copy of the draft amendments is available to view on the City’s website: www.lagunabeachcity.net. For more information on the Downtown Specific Plan Update project please contact Wendy Jung, Senior Planner, at (949) 497-0321; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

City Hall Pepper Tree Reduction -Next week, the historic pepper tree at City Hall will be reduced to approximately 12 feet high. Street parking directly in front of City Hall will not be available during the trimming operations. Please use the Lumberyard Parking Lot or Parking Lot 11 for business at City Hall when parking spaces are not available in front of City Hall.  

Wood from the tree will be made available through the end of November to artists, or any members of the public who wish to craft objects or to have a memento from the tree. For more information, or to request wood from the tree, please contact Senior Administrative Analyst, Robert Sedita at (949) 497-0740 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Skyline Drive Road Work - From Oct 4 to 20, Skyline Drive will be closed to through traffic, between Manzanita Drive and Vista Lane, during working hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, to accommodate construction of an underground sub-drain. The drain will improve the road surface conditions and is being installed in advance of the upcoming slurry seal resurfacing. 

The road will remain open to residents within the work zone.  For more information, please contact, Assistant City Engineer, Mark Trestik at (949) 497-0300 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Emergency Permit For Fuel Modification - The Fire Department has received an Emergency Permit from the California Coastal Commission to perform fuel modification work in the area above Driftwood Drive and Ocean Vista Drive.  The work is scheduled to begin on Monday, October 2.  

No native vegetation will be removed and all the work will be performed by hand crews with a biologist on site to ensure the protection of sensitive habitat.  For information on this project contact the Fire Department at (949) 497-0700.


City Manager’s Update

Fallen Officer Ceremony - Thurs, Sept 21, marked the four-year anniversary of the in the line of duty death of Laguna Beach Police Officer Jon Coutchie. At 6 p.m. on September 21, in front of the police officer’s memorial in front of the police station, the Laguna Beach Police Department held a ceremony in honor and remembrance of Officer Coutchie and Officer Gordon French, who both gave the ultimate sacrifice while protecting the citizens on this city.

Review Final Draft of Laguna Canyon Planning Study - The City of Laguna Beach and consultant MIG will continue their efforts on the Laguna Canyon Planning Study Project on Tues, Sept 26, during the City Council’s regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.  

The focus of the planning study is to review zoning and development standards regarding property within the Laguna Canyon study area. The Laguna Canyon Planning Study has been presented as a draft report to the Planning Commission in a series of three hearings, and will conclude with a final hearing before the City Council. 

A copy of the final draft report is available to review on the City’s website: www.lagunabeachcity.net.  For more information on the Laguna Canyon Planning Study Project, contact: Wendy Jung, Senior Planner at (949) 497-0321; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

New Fire Engine and Vehicle for the City - The fire department took delivery of a new fire engine this week.  It was built by Pierce Manufacturing and will soon go into service at Station #1. The cost of the engine was $644,000. We also took delivery of a new command vehicle. This unit will be placed in service as the Battalion 1 vehicle and will be housed at Fire Station #2.

 

Click on photos for larger images

Photos courtesy City Manager

New fire engine and command vehicle

Nationwide Test of the Emergency Alert System - On Sept 27 at 11:20 a.m. PST, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will conduct a mandatory test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The test will assess the readiness for distribution of the national level test message, as well as verify its delivery.  

The EAS test is made available to radio, television, cable and direct broadcast satellite systems, and is scheduled to last approximately one minute.

Annual Composting Classes - The City’s solid waste hauler, Waste Management, will offer the final free composting class for 2017 on Sat, Sept 23, from 10 to 11 a.m. at Bluebird Park, located at 798 Bluebird Cyn Drive. Compost and worm bins will be available for purchase during the class at a discounted price.  

For more information, contact the Waste Management class instructor, Lisa Ryder, at (310) 874-2499 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Main Beach Park Bench Painting - On Mon, Sept 25, the 47 wooden benches at Main Beach Park will be sanded and re-stained. The project is expected to be completed by Wed, Oct 4.  The project will be done in phases so that most of the benches will be available for the public at all times.  For more information, contact Maintenance Supervisor, Wayne Chintala, at (949) 464-6644.

Street Resurfacing - Construction will begin next week to repair and resurface roadways in the Mystic Hills, Skyline, lower Bluebird Canyon, and lower Summit Drive areas, including Park Avenue between Wendt Terrace and Hillview Drive. Preliminary construction notices have been mailed to affected residents.  

The project is expected to be completed by the end of November.  For more information, visit the project website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/slurryseal or call (844) LAGUNA4 or (844) 524-8624.

Fall Aquatics Programs - The Community Services Department is still accepting registrations for all aquatics programming. Sign up for the gold medal winning age group water polo program, or make a splash on the swim

team. 

Register online at: https://secure.rec1.com/CA/city-of-laguna-beach/catalog/index?filter=Y2F0ZWdvcnklNUI1NDYyJTVEPTEmdGFiJTVCMTI2NiU1RD0xJnNlYXJjaD0=


Planning Commissioners want more information before approving changes to second unit ordinance

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Planning Commission on Wednesday tossed the ball back into staff’s court after a lengthy discussion on revisions to the city’s ordinance regarding Accessory Dwelling Units.

Commissioners asked for more information about ways to calculate which lots would be eligible for what used to be called second units, size of the units, graphics of possible configurations, parking requirements and a definition of public transportation to determine if the city’s “Little Blue Buses” could be counted.  

“It seems we had more questions than answers,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson.

Changes in the ordinance must comply with state laws passed in 2016. 

The intent of the state legislation was to address California’s housing shortage by making it easier to develop second units, detached or within a single-family home, according to the staff report to the commission by planners Melinda Dacey and Monique Alaniz-Flejter. 

A bump in the inventory of affordable housing at or below the going rate in pricey neighborhoods would provide options for family members, students, the elderly, in-home health care providers, the disabled and other vulnerable folks.

Fiftieth District Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who authored AB 2299, wrote City Manager John Pietig on Sept 13 to “strongly request” the city begin processing requests for approval of second units in accordance with the state law, while updating the local ordinance.

State law and the Local Coastal Plan

The revision in the ordinance must be incorporated in the city’s Local Coastal Plan, which requires certification by the Californian Coastal Commission.

“Follow the law now,” said resident Cort Shannon. “It could be a year or more for a new [amended] ordinance to become part of the certified Local Coastal Plan.” 

Shannon urged the commission to offer incentives, such as tax breaks, fee waivers and faster processing of applications.

Incentives could be tied to deed restrictions specifying low-income renters, said Community Development Director Greg Pfost.   

Resident Charlotte Masarik asked the commissioners to be wary of unintended consequences. 

“Potentially, these ‘ADUs’ could morph into short term lodgings and we know enforcement is all but impossible,” said Masarik.

Accessory dwellings are detached from the main structure, JADUs ( junior accessory dwellings) are under the same roof as the primary living space. 

“JDUs provide immediate, low-hanging fruit in as much as they are less than 500 square feet and within an existing structure,” said Housing and Human Services Committee member Kimberly Norton. “Voila!”

Access to fire services in high-density neighborhoods is an issue

However, Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee Chair Matt Lawson urged caution in developing affordable housing that would increase density in “access-impaired” neighborhoods. 

“Our firefighters are superb at navigating large emergency apparatus on our sub-standard streets but they aren’t magicians and mutual aid firefighters from other agencies may not have the same skills,” said Lawson. 

He advised careful control of second unit development in risky neighborhoods. 

Unfortunately, the state fire marshal has classified about 90 percent of Laguna highest fire risk, according to Lawson. 

Nine applications to develop ADU are in the pipeline, according to Pfost.

Norton questioned the delay in approvals. 

“The state has provided guidelines, why not follow them,” she asked. “I request the commissioners meet with the Housing and Human Services Committee, the Seniors Task Force and the Board of Realtors, who are very informed before recommending any provisions that unintentionally inhibit ADU creation.”

Staff has until late November to prepare the answers to the questions asked by Commissioners on Wednesday. 


Commission OKs staff TKO on downtown development

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The Planning Commission on Wednesday agreed to jettison recommendations by consultant MIG on the topic of re-use and Intensification in the revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to accept staff’s agreement with recommendations by an ad hoc committee to scrap policies described as obsolete due to the current economic climate and changes in commercial uses, and shunt still-relevant policies to other areas of the document.

“Speaking for the ad hoc committee, I agree with the staff report,” said former Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman.

Senior Planner Wendy Yung’s report to the commission stated that staff believes the committee’s comments and suggestions were reasonable. She identified the committee as composed of a group of interested residents that want to build consensus on suggested changes to the Downtown Specific Plan. 

Staff and consultant’s recommendations differ significantly

Asked by Commissioner Roger McErlane how the staff recommendations could differ so much from the consultant’s, Community Development Director Greg replied that staff works with the consultant, but adds its own perspective.

Written comments by the Ad Hoc Committee included removal of the topic, originally developed to address economic pressures 10 or even 20 years ago, many of them now irrelevant. 

The committee contended that still relevant policies can appropriately be moved to other topics, such as MIG’s position on shared second story office uses as justification for parking relief, which the committee rejected as covered in another section of the plan and which should be discussed there. 

An MIG recommendation to change the title of the topic from “Re-use and Intensification” to “Small–Scale Development” was also squelched, although Grossman agreed with the elimination of the word, intensification.

“It gets an adverse reaction,” said Grossman.

Members of the ad hoc committee also include former Planning Commissioners Becky Jones, Barbara Metzger and Realtor Bob Chapman; former Mayor Ann Christoph; Village Laguna Board member Kate Clark; and business owners Kavita Reddy, David Rubel and Kent Russell.


City Manager Updates

New Police Officer Graduates from Academy - On Friday, Sept 15, Priscilla Angeloni graduates from the Golden West Police Academy. Priscilla was a jailer with the police department before entering the academy. She has been an outstanding police recruit and is representing Laguna Beach with honor as she has been selected as class president. As class president she will be the keynote speaker for graduation ceremony of Academy Class #155. Welcome Officer Angeloni!

Downtown Specific Plan Update – Review Draft Amendments (Section III, Topic 4) - The City of Laguna Beach and consultant MIG will continue their efforts on the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) Update on Wed, Sept 20, during the Planning Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. 

The Planning Commission will review and discuss MIG’s recommended draft amendments to Section III: Issue Statements and Policies, Topic 4 (Re-Use and Intensification) of the existing DSP document. A copy of the draft amendments are available to view on the City’s website: www.lagunabeachcity.net

For more information on the Downtown Specific Plan Update project please contact: Wendy Jung, Senior Planner, at (949) 497-0321; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Council approves weapon ban

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Weapons or ordinary items that could be used as weapons will not be allowed at demonstrations, protest rallies or other public assemblies on city beaches or parks. 

The City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance proposed by Police Chief Laura Farinella to turn away anyone seen with items such soda cans or flags on sticks, as well as the more obvious daggers, metal pipes, or chains. 

“It is important to make our community and our law enforcement personnel safer,” said Mayor Toni Iseman 

Council acted on resident Hillary Cole’s recommendation to add bio-hazardous materials, regardless of the container, to the extensive list of banned items.

However, Cole also said participants in public events should be allowed to carry poles to hold up signs, but her suggestion was not included in the motion to approve the ordinance.

Farinella said flag poles could have easily-removed caps to uncover sharp inserts.

When possible, a warning should be issued before enforcement, unless circumstances dictate immediate action, according to the ordinance.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Lynette

What exactly will be regarded as weapons?

“If we see someone heading toward a gathering carrying a weapon, we will tell them to go back to their car,” Farinella said

Violators of the ordinance will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

“This backs up what we want people to know about what we are going to do,” said Mayo Pro Tem Kelly Boyd.

Farinella crafted the urgency ordinance with City Attorney Phillip Kohn, in the wake of the Aug 20 “America First” rally at Main Beach. A similar rally in Virginia ended with one dead, and many others injured when a vehicle was driven into the crowd, Farinella said.  

David Oakley suggested the council should revisit the ordinance to avoid slipping into a police state.

Farinella said people would be able to express their First Amendment rights---just don’t bring weapons.

“Í would rather err on the side of safety when it does not inhibit free speech,” said Councilman Steven Dicterow.

An urgency ordinance takes effect immediately on passage, without the usual requirement for a second reading. 

The complete text of Agenda Bill 13 and the ordinance can be reviewed at www.lagunabeachcity.net. Click on the council agenda for Sept. 12 and again on documents.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie  Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

Email: Lynette@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc

949.715.1736