The 6 Million myth
Do six million people annually visit Laguna? That’s a lot. Some say it’s a highly inflated number. They may be right.
The city’s website says Laguna attracts over three million visitors annually, but the six million number comes from a Visit Laguna Beach 2007 study estimating 6.13 million visitors annually. The study was based on 600 on-site visitor interviews, 154 Laguna household telephone interviews, and Laguna hotel performance data. From that small data source we get, Viola! over 6 million visitors. That’s some arithmetic.
Why is an accurate visitor count important? Well, that number is used to calculate percentages and the economic impact of tourism on Laguna, like the claim that 94% of all visitors are day-trippers. That’s allegedly 5.76 million day-trippers and just 261,000 hotel visitors. It’s also a number used to support growing the size of government in Laguna, including hiring more police. It’s also a number the city doesn’t want to refute because it wants to raise taxes by passing Measure LL, and pour $2 million into the City’s general fund. Slush.
For comparison, in 2015 the Grand Canyon had 5 million visitors, Yellowstone had 3.8 million, Universal Studios had 7 million, and Knots Berry Farm had 3.9 million. Santa Cruz (population 63,000) estimates 4 million visitors, and the lovely city of Coronado (population 30,000) estimates 2 million. Closer to home, Newport Beach (population 87,000) estimates just 7 million visitors and Surf City Huntington Beach (population 199,000) estimates just 3.5 million.
By comparison, 6 million seems ridiculously high for Laguna. It should not be the number bandied about to support increasing the size of local government, or to support raising taxes, or to demonize tourists, allegedly to pay for all the havoc and burden wreaked on City resources by 6 million invaders.
The city claims it needs this money for “vital services”, yet page 1 of the city’s own 2015-2017 budget states clearly: “The General Fund is doing well and the City finds itself in a relatively healthy position with many of the City’s revenues meeting or exceeding levels experienced prior to the recession.”
In 2015 LA Times writer David Hansen exposed the 6 million myth. He wrote that “the 6 million-plus visitors equals an average of 16,794 people per day”….but spreading the average to the peak summer period and “assigning 75% of the visitors to May through September” we get nearly 30,000 visitors daily. The city says “on a summer day, beach attendance can approach 70,000 individuals.” Really?
Hansen does the math and asks “where are they parking?” The city has under 2,000 parking spots in downtown and the canyon. “Even if we count only visitors and are generous with the extended parking, that’s about 20 people per car. Apparently most of the people who drive to Laguna arrive in party buses.” (Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2015, Hansen: How many people visit Laguna? Good question.)
We need real numbers to help with congestion and encourage transportation methods that don’t involve more cars. With new housing developments beyond our canyon, it’s going to get worse. But, it’s important the city doesn’t use inflated numbers to justify government expansion, and turn Laguna into an overregulated, over-managed, and over-policed town.
Measure LL is a money grab to fill the city’s general coffers that the city has already told you are full. Shouldn’t taxes be raised only when really needed for a funding crisis or for a particular purpose? Measure LL is a slush fund, no matter how the city or councilmembers try to convince you it will only be used for “vital services.” The money has no strings attached, it slushes into the general fund. Promises of an oversight committee and resolutions of intent are nice, but have no binding effect.
Voting NO on Measure LL will stop the slush fund, force the City to be specific before it asks to raises taxes, and force honesty about whether the true purpose of Measure LL is to float a multi-million dollar revenue bond for an even bigger slush into the general fund.
On a positive note, Visit Laguna Beach has contracted for a new study on tourist estimates, due out in 2017. We look forward to that new study, which hopefully will be more factually substantiated, so that we can plan and act accordingly.
Jennifer Welsh Zeiter
President, Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association
Two for Parisi
In a few weeks Laguna’s citizens will vote on the candidates for City Council and City Treasurer.
While the Council race has understandably drawn the most attention, the position of City Treasurer is equally if not more important. Our elected Treasurer is responsible for over $85 million in City investments (i.e. our dollars) in federal agency securities, municipal bonds the state investment pool and other vehicles.
Our current Treasurer, Laura Parisi, is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Municipal Treasurer, and a Certified Fixed Income Practitioner in addition to possessing degrees in Accounting and Business Administration with a minor in economics. Under Laura’s stewardship as Treasurer, the City’s investments under management have tripled.
Laura Parisi has the qualifications and proven track record protect and grow our tax dollars. I hope you’ll join us in voting to re-elect Laura Parisi as City Treasurer.
Telitha Holewski and Wayne Gartin
A letter published on Tuesday urged Lagunans to “vote locally so special interest groups don’t determine local elections,” and to vote to replace our incumbent City Treasurer.
What the heck is that supposed to mean?
Laura Parisi, our current City Treasurer, has earned the endorsement of many Laguna Beach community leaders including retired City Treasurer Susan Morse, who presumably knows a lot about Laguna’s finances since she served in that office for 18 years.
Laura Parisi has also been endorsed by the Orange County Auditor-Controller, former Orange County Treasurer, the Superintendent of Schools for Orange County Al Mijares, PhD, current State Senator John Moorlach (who represents Laguna Beach), former State Treasurer and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, all of whom were duly elected by voters including many in Laguna Beach.
And Shari Freidenrich, a CPA and Orange County’s elected Treasurer-Tax Collector, recently wrote to the Laguna Beach City Council: “I have worked with your City Treasurer for the last 16 years in the public sector area. She is highly regarded by her peers and is known for her technical knowledge in a variety of areas, due to her CPA and prior work experience. She has represented the City of Laguna Beach very effectively … I believe that the City of Laguna Beach is lucky to have a CPA as their elected City Treasurer.”
If these are special interests, they’re special because they clearly have our best interests at heart. Laguna voters would be well-served to follow their lead and re-elect Laura Parisi as Laguna Beach City Treasurer.
Vote for Rollinger
Though I, personally, remain conflicted about this issue, I noted that Mayor Dicterow initially strongly opposed the Planning Commission’s complete ban on STRs (Short Term Rentals). Instead, he pushed to weaken the ordinance by allowing limited STRs in residential zones, thereby making the ordinance impossible to enforce and changing the face of Laguna forever. After an avalanche of public protest, he flip-flopped and voted with the rest of the council for a total ban.
Now he’s claiming credit for protecting our neighborhoods from STLs and preserving our village atmosphere.
A few weeks later Mayor Dicterow flip-flopped again. Running for re-election he publicly declares he is for the preservation and charm of LB, (his yard sign says “Retain Laguna’s Charm and Character”), yet he professed to be confused regarding keeping the listed historic house at 337 Hawthorne Road from being removed from the city’s Historic Register (City Council Meeting 9/13). He voted for its removal, which basically amounts to its future demolition.
Confused Mr. Mayor? Now I am confused.
Please Vote for Verna Rollinger. She is honest and true, says what she means. She thinks issues through carefully so she doesn’t have to change her mind.
Urging a vote for McGraw
I’m writing to urge Lagunans to pay attention and vote locally so special interest groups don’t determine local elections. It’s reported our city has an almost $100 million budget! The 17 year, unchallenged incumbent city treasurer has grown a bureaucracy of $134,000 per year for a part-time banking position and sought to expand the position to full-time year after year. The council has rejected this request since 2007 yet the treasurer continues to pursue pay increases and has excessive overtime expenses in 2016.
Please join myself and four councilpersons: Whalen, Dicterow, Boyd and Zur Schmiede; the former city manager Ken Frank and former councilpersons Egly and Kinsman in supporting Anne McGraw for City Treasurer.
Parisi is the responsible choice
I know and like both parties running for City Treasurer, and believe both have Laguna’s best interests at heart. But my 30+ years as a CPA with extensive knowledge of private and public accounting and finance lead me to conclude the differences between the qualifications of the candidates are too serious to be ignored.
The role of Treasurer is not a bookkeeping function. The staff of the City’s Department of Finance handles the bookkeeping. The Treasurer, elected by Laguna Beach residents, serves as the check and balance to those who keep the books, and has the fiscal responsibility to manage the City’s (our) money to ensure it grows and is protected. She is our Chief Investment Officer and administers the assessment districts.
The Treasurer must have In-depth knowledge of compliance with and implementation of complex municipal finance laws and regulations, a thorough understanding of financial reporting according to Generally Accepted Government Accounting Standards, and expertise in the highly specialized field of municipal finance, all of which differ greatly from private sector rules and practices.
Incumbent Laura Parisi is a CPA, Certified Municipal Treasurer and Certified Fixed Income Practitioner. She currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Orange County Treasury Oversight Committee (where the schools keep their money), Board Member for the State of California Local Agency Investment Board, and Chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee for the League of California Cities. She did not earn these positions of trust by accident.
By contrast the challenger for the position operates a local bookkeeping business. Her decision to run for Treasurer is commendable, but bookkeeping skills are simply not adequate to responsibly and successfully fulfill the complicated duties of City Treasurer, including the stewardship of our $90 to $100 million investment portfolio.
Qualifications and experience count, and the difference between the two candidates in this regard is unmistakable. Laura Parisi is the responsible choice for City Treasurer.
Laura Parisi has my supportive vote!
I have known and admired Laura for over 20 years and as a 37 year resident; appreciate her tremendous dedication to our beautiful town. Laura goes above and beyond her duties to Laguna Beach with meticulous detail and enthusiasm.
As a 35-year business owner in Laguna Beach, I understand the complexities of her job! I am thankful to have Laura as our City Treasurer and look forward to many more years of her service.
With respect and admiration.
Heidi A. Miller
Urging a vote for Parisi
The Laguna Beach City Treasurer should not only look after the city’s investments, she should also look after the interests of the city’s residents.
As our Treasurer, Laura Parisi has done both. In addition to presiding over years of positive financial growth, she has proven to be a conscientious watchdog on behalf of the taxpayers of Laguna Beach.
For example, I am a resident of the Sycamore Hills assessment district more commonly known as The Terraces and California Cove. In the course of her duties Laura discovered that residents of the Sycamore Hills assessment district had been overcharged for bond repayments by the City. She worked with the city’s bond counsel to calculate a refund that was sent to homeowners. I received that check along with my neighbors two days before Christmas. The additional bonus was a reduced tax assessment going forward. If she had not found the over collection, the city would not have refunded us and we would have continued to pay the higher assessment.
In another instance, Laura’s careful review of a construction fund surplus resulted in a $300,000 increased refund to residents of Arch Beach Heights.
Laura Parisi goes above and beyond to watch out for the people of Laguna Beach.
I strongly support Laura’s re-election as Treasurer so she can continue her good work on our behalf.
Nancy M. Miller
Urging a vote for Grayson
For years I have followed Senator John Moorlach as a member of the OC Board of Supervisors and now as state senator. I applaud him for his concerns about wasteful spending but it seems he doesn’t get that as a senator he’s also responsible for all the things needed to have a strong economy and healthy communities.
Moorlach recently opposed a bill addressing global climate change signed by Gov. Brown. Climate change is real, the CO2 emissions that contribute to climate change are harmful to our health. Trivializing or ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. Not addressing the problem only makes it more difficult to deal with later. This summer was the hottest worldwide ever, last year was the 2nd hottest summer.
Californians are already feeling the effects of climate change, from rising sea levels along the coastal communities to drought-stricken farming communities. It’s long past time that we address the problems and plan for our future. We need to capture the rare rainfall we receive and if necessary, build desalination plants to supplement our water needs. Why isn’t John Moorlach able to see what we need and plan accordingly?
Moorlach wants only to address is pensions. Fair enough, but why does Moorlach attack the pensions of police, firefighters, and teachers when he’s taking an $84,000 pension from OC taxpayers? The LA Times said Moorlach blamed the pension problems on policies when Moorlach “knew better.” The problem was caused by an economic crisis slowdown.
The threat to our economy and our future isn’t pensions; the threat is not having clean air and available water. Without them our quality of life suffers, businesses are driven away, and our economy struggles.
I urge you to support Ari Grayson for state senate. Ari has the vision California needs to thrive.
Pat Grossman, MD
“The Trump campaign is over”
Like many of my friends in town, I watched Sunday night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. At one point, I couldn’t help but think I was witnessing a “dead man walking” on stage. And not because of the lewd, disgusting comments Trump made about women in 2005. No, for the second time in a row, the GOP candidate flunked the commander-in-chief test. Basically, his answers about Russia, Aleppo and Syria not only were uninspiring, they were woefully underwhelming.
No presidential candidate has lost two debates and then gone on to win the general election. The big question for Republicans coast to coast now is this: How much longer will they remain loyal supporters of The Donald? Given the trickle of defections that began on Saturday, I feel Trump did little during the debate to calm the political waters. That said, my guess is there will be a mass exodus this week.
Dead men can’t talk, so I’ll say it: The Trump campaign is over.
In support of Laura Parisi
A recent letter to the editor disparaged the performance of City Treasurer, Laura Parisi, citing current investment return, “little more than 1%.” This criticism is misguided and unwarranted.
City funds must be invested to allow for cash flow demands of City operations. This means a chunk of the portfolio must always be immediately available. Other chunks must be available for use periodically during the coming months and years. To meet these continual demands, prudent portfolio management requires funds be invested in a spectrum of maturities.
Further, by law no investment maturity may be longer than five years. So if managed properly we should expect average portfolio maturity to be about two and a half years. It is currently 2.3 years. Further, both state law and city regulations require investments only in the safest instruments. Therefore, a fair benchmark is the two-year treasury rate.
Return on investable funds as of the latest report, June 2016, was 1.12% as reported in the latest Treasurer’s monthly report. This soundly beat the two-year treasury benchmark of 0.58%. Impressively, at no time during the previous twelve months did this benchmark ever reach the 1.12% of Laguna’s portfolio.
Still, one data point is a shortsighted measure either of investment returns or of a manager’s performance. During Treasurer Parisi’s seventeen-year tenure, returns reported as of each June 30 for funds under her management have average a 2.74% annualized return compared to 2.24% for the benchmark.
Furthermore Laguna’s portfolio has experienced lower volatility than the benchmark. Achieving higher returns with lower volatility is the gold standard in investing. By these appropriate measures Laguna’s portfolio has excelled.
While the performance has been superior, it has not been miraculous. These numbers reflect what happens when a proper diversification of investment type and duration is instituted and maintained. In this, our incumbent City Treasurer has served Laguna very well indeed.
I commend Treasurer Laura Parisi. I will be voting for her in November.
NO on increasing the TOT
Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association does not support an increase in the TOT.
The primary reason, despite its misleading name and language, which appears to direct funding for “fire, police protection and emergency response”, it in fact, directs the revenues from this tax increase to instead go to the general fund.
It gives the City a blank check to spend the money raised by the increase in taxes in any way the City chooses, without voter input or approval. There is no demonstrated need for an increase in revenues in the City at this time. The City has a reserve of $11 Million, and is operating at a surplus with revenues expected to increase year after year over the next several fiscal years. Property taxes alone are expected to increase by 6.75%.
The City does not need the money.
We also do not support this measure because the revenues raised by the increase in taxes are not specifically directed to a particular need. The City placed this general fund initiative on the ballot knowing that only a simple voter approval of 51% would be necessary for approval, as opposed to the 2/3rds voter approval threshold required for specific needs.
An increase in taxes should only be approved when there is an urgent and demonstrated essential need for additional monies to provide essential City services, and none has been shown. Further, the City has already signaled it’s intent to use this increase in taxes to support a multi-million dollar revenue bond measure at taxpayer expense so that it can spend even more of your money, without further voter approval. How much is enough?
Vote NO on this increase in taxes.
Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association
Jennifer Zeiter, President
KK is bad for Laguna
If you read the full text of Measure KK, the Medical Marijuana Dispensary ballot measure, you will quickly figure out that it is all about avoiding local control.
Like thedrug rehab or recovery houses that have sprung up in Laguna with no local control, KK circumvents local control and grants to one specific applicant priority in registering for the exclusive right to the monopoly to sell medical marijuana, and potentially recreational marijuana, in Laguna Beach. The applicant who would have priority is described in detail in the measure but never identified by name.
Regardless of whether you are a proponent or an opponent of medical and/or recreational marijuana, we urge you to not vote for Measure KK in the upcoming election.
Measure KK is bad for Laguna.
It is written so that the city of Laguna Beach has no control or oversight over who would operate these dispensaries, their hours of operation, their business plan or even that they must obtain the same use permit that other businesses in our city must obtain. This measure benefits only the writers of the initiative.
It would hand a highly controversial land use in our community to someone who has gambled that for the cost of gathering a couple thousand signatures, the reward might be the exclusive franchise to sell marijuana in Laguna Beach.
Don’t be fooled. Don’t let that happen.
Defeat Measure KK!
John and Peggie Thomas
From the LBUSD Superintendent
This message from Dr. Jason Viloria, LBUSD Superintendent, was sent out via email to all families
Members of the Laguna Beach Unified School District Community,
I was recently contacted by several community members who asked whether or not I had endorsed a candidate for LBUSD Board of Education, based on the recent advertisement titled “Building Community Around Even Better Public Schools” in a local newspaper.
I am providing this brief communiqué to emphasize that I consider it my professional and ethical obligation to be neutral on Laguna Beach Unified School District Board elections, to ensure that I work collaboratively and productively with whomever the citizens of Laguna Beach elect to represent them. I look forward to doing just that.
To the extent anyone interpreted the advertisement as an endorsement of a candidate by the LBUSD Superintendent, please note that it is not an endorsement and I was not involved in its creation or distribution.
Jason Viloria, Ed.D.
Laguna Beach Unified School District
Police & firefighters urge, “YES” on measure LL, “NO” on measure KK
Darin Lenyi, President
Laguna Beach Police and Fire Management Association
The Laguna Beach Police & Fire Management Association strongly urges you to vote YES on Vital Services Measure LL and vote NO on Measure KK to help our police and firefighters better protect you, your family and your neighbors.
Measure LL would increase the tax on hotel guests by 2% to raise approximately $2 million per year for important public safety improvements and other vital services. Residents don’t pay this “transient occupancy tax” unless they stay at a local hotel but would benefit greatly from the public services Measure LL could help fund.
In placing Measure LL on the ballot, Council said that they intend to use those added funds principally to provide much needed additional resources for public safety -- fire protection, emergency medical response, law enforcement, marine safety, disaster preparedness and accelerated utility undergrounding – an essential step to reduce the chance of another devastating wildfire like the one that destroyed a good part of the City in 1993.
We support Council’s desire to enhance public safety through Measure LL.
You should too.
Moving on to Measure KK, that initiative would do harm to our community and we strongly urge a “No” vote regardless of how you might feel about medical or recreational marijuana use. KK has nothing to do with helping residents obtain marijuana for legitimate medical needs. They can get medical marijuana delivered right to their door, right now.
Measure KK was cleverly crafted to allow drug dealers -- even convicted felons -- to replace existing City ordinances and set up shop at multiple locations in Laguna Beach. These facilities could well be close by residential neighborhoods, in virtually any commercial or industrial location more than 1,000 feet from a school.
Measure KK would permit virtually no ownership vetting, public input or operational oversight by the City and would generate little, if any, local tax revenue to offset the costs these drug sales facilities would impose on local taxpayers.
If KK passes, Laguna Beach would be the site of the only marijuana distribution facilities in South County. According to statistical data from other jurisdictions, such marijuana sales facilities are likely to become crime magnets.
We could see drug users from all over OC driving into Laguna Beach each day, adding to our traffic and parking congestion. Also, we don’t need more impaired drivers on our streets.
As public safety professionals who protect this community every day, we ask you to join with us and others in voting NO on KK and YES on LL for a safer Laguna Beach.
LCAD traffic disruptions and safety concerns
Currently the traffic light at LCAD is set to go off immediately when someone pushes the button to cross the street. The traffic lights glow amber, then solid red and then flashing red, and traffic stops. Once the signal starts flashing red, motorists are able to proceed if the crosswalk is clear. Confusing instructions for the drivers are posted, but few proceed when red lights flash. Most people stay stopped until no lights are visible. Understandably, most people do not feel comfortable driving through a cross walk when red lights are flashing.
The light should be regulated to stop traffic less frequently - like once every five minutes. It is not unreasonable to expect an LCAD student to wait to cross the street like any other pedestrian at any other stoplight in Laguna. This isn’t a radical concept. This will mean significantly less traffic disruptions on Laguna Canyon Road and our pedestrians will be safe.
The good news is that we have a candidate for city council, Verna Rollinger, who is willing to work with Caltrans on this issue. In fact, she has a demonstrated record of success working with various agencies within and outside of Laguna Beach. Verna has stated that she will work with Caltrans to help try to improve this difficult traffic issue.
Senator Moorlach is costing us dearly
My name is Dr. Ari Grayson and I am running to represent the 37th State Senate District because I know that the challenges California faces require thoughtful solutions. I am a scientist and an educator specializing in architectural engineering and psychology. I know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is good for our environment, our health, our economy - and it creates good jobs. A true leader sees connections and opportunities in challenges. Unfortunately, incumbent senator John Moorlach seems incapable of making important connections.
Moorlach attacked SB 32, a bill that requires California reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moorlach dismissed greenhouse gas emissions saying, “the state’s global impact is next to nothing.” Moorlach fails to understand that the greenhouse gases produced in California affect the health of our communities before they spread around the world.
Rather than addressing the serious issue of greenhouse gas reduction, Moorlach turned to attacking the pensions of teachers, police, and firefighters. Moorlach told the OC Register that pensions contributed to State and local budget woes. But “Moorlach was dead wrong and he knew it.” The real problem was an economic slowdown. Moorlach is also wrong when he proclaims that dealing with greenhouse gases will hurt our economy.
Here is the reality:
California wins when California leads: California should invest in and lead the world in the manufacture and the use of green technologies. We should be the Silicon Valley of green technologies.
Green technology will strengthen our economy: Green technology presents an opportunity for innovation and creation of new businesses and will create the good paying jobs we need to keep our economy strong.
Smog and pollution: Smog once plagued Southern California, but our air quality is improving. We need to work to ensure we always have clean air, sanitary water, and safe food.
Global climate change threatens our communities: Sea levels are rising and even modest storms cause flooding on Balboa Island in Newport Beach. Within a generation many of California’s beaches will be eroded and gone. The cost of relocating homes, businesses, and the infrastructure could easily be tens of billions of dollars.
Moorlach lacks the vision of a leader. A leader knows what they’re costing us is as important as what you’re saving us.
We simply can’t afford Moorlach; he’s costing us too dearly.
Dr. Ari Grayson
Rights of Laguna property owners slashed by new proposed ordinance
Let Laguna Live!
Gene D’Isabella, a retired Laguna Beach firefighter, stepped to the podium in the Council Chambers in a final effort to protect his property rights. Gene moved to Laguna Beach in 1956, bought a modest home and worked hard to pay it off on a fireman’s salary. He drives the old fire truck every year in the Founders’ Day Parade, and drives Santa into town on Hospitality Night. Now, his rights as a homeowner were under attack by the very community he served with distinction for so long.
A man who spent his career protecting others was now being forced to defend his property rights from an assault led by a small but vocal group seeking to declare his private home an “historic resource” and freeze it in time. Gene stood tall and, with a firm voice, once again explained to deaf ears that ownership of his home is his family legacy. He simply wanted to enjoy the same rights of life, liberty and property guaranteed by the United States Constitution. He wanted his kids to be able to inherit his property and to modify it as their personal needs would reasonably require. In Gene’s mind, this is what owning property is all about. This is why he worked so hard as a fireman ~ for himself and for his family.
The seed of Gene’s problem germinated about three and a half decades ago. Between
July 15, 1980 and July 15, 1981, an “historian” drove around Laguna and photographed approximately 850 homes, assigning them an “E”, “K” or “C” rating. Gene thinks his home was rated a “C” – no elaborate structure in and of itself but, according to the anonymous historian who never spoke with Gene, the home vaguely “contributed” to the neighborhood. At the time, Gene was not alarmed. After all, the City General Plan clearly stated that the City’s preservation effort was to be strictly voluntary (Historic Resources Element – Laguna Beach General Plan [Introduction, Page 2]). If homeowners were so inclined, and Gene was not, they could apply to have their homes included on the City’s Historic Register. Successful Historic Register applicants could share in a variety of incentives, including reduced permit fees, relaxed setback restrictions, and even property tax reductions, but they were required to enter into a written contract with the State agreeing to maintain their homes in accordance with strict federal preservation rules established by the Secretary of the Interior.
The City’s current preservation ordinance makes reference to two different lists:
List 1, the Historic “Register,” requires an application and an evidentiary showing by the applicant at a public hearing that the home meets one of four specific historic criteria. The home also must maintain its “historic integrity,” which means that it looks about the same as it did when its defining features gained their importance.
List 2, the Historic “Inventory,” is the product of the above described drive-by photo safari in the early 1980’s in which homes were classified without input from the property owners. Involuntary inclusion on the Inventory entitled the homeowner to nothing in the way of benefits. If an owner no longer wanted to have his or her home included on the Register, they could make application to get off of the list. The only stated limitation to exit the list was that any incentive received had to be repaid to the government. Paradoxically, there was no way off of the Inventory.
Over time, something changed in the way the City treated homes on the Inventory. Someone persuaded City staff that all of these privately owned homes should be quietly reclassified by the City and treated as “historic resources.” That’s right: they were no longer homes that belonged to the homeowner. They would now be resources controlled by so-called preservationists refusing to acknowledge the architectural tastes or housing needs of the owner. This shift, impacting about 500 Laguna Beach homes, was the biggest dollar-for-dollar land grab in the history of the City.
And it all occurred without a single homeowner receiving one word of notice. The City provided no opportunity or forum to these property owners to defend their property rights. Concerns about inclusion on the Inventory were raised from time to time by some homeowners. For about 20 years, concerned homeowners were regularly assured that it was not a big deal to be on the Inventory — it was just a quaint artifact from the 1980’s. Historic preservation, after all, was strictly voluntary.
To the detriment of these property owners, the City started applying new rules to these homes, gutting homeowners’ rights in the process. The action was based on a misinterpretation of the California Public Resources Code and the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) that the Inventory gave rise to a presumption that the property was historic.
Please don’t fall asleep on me here, because you need to understand this next part if you own or want to buy property in Laguna Beach. Public Resources Code Section 21084.1 states that if a home is included on a state or a local “Register” (voluntary), or a valid Inventory (involuntary), CEQA creates a presumption that the home is an historic public resource. Any modification of that home that causes a “substantial adverse change” in the resource may have a significant effect on the environment.
According to the statute, the presumption may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence. As applied by the City, if your home is on the Register or the Inventory, your remodel options are limited to those set forth by the Secretary of the Interior. The determination as to whether or not your proposed remodel could be approved would now be made by the Heritage Committee. Comment at the Heritage Committee is not limited to people within 300 feet, like a Design Review hearing. But suddenly your application could be opposed by any hair-on-fire fanatic with a “preservation” bent. This was okay as far as the homes on the Register are concerned, because that is the deal those homeowners made with the City and the State. Register homeowners receive incentives from public funds in exchange for heightened regulatory control over future changes to their property.
The Register premise did not hold true for Inventory homes. These property owners never made a contract with anybody. They were included on a list over which they had no control. But, according to the City, the Inventory homes had exactly the same burdens as the Register homes. But they had none of the rights.
Unfair? Illegal? A taking? You’re darned right!
But there was no way off of the Inventory list. Inventory homeowners are stuck in process hell. Not only are their remodel efforts subject to Design Review where neighbors within 300 feet could object, but these Inventory families are first required to go to the Heritage Committee, where every “special interest” citizen and/or preservationist in town can organize and oppose their project. In a cruel irony, the better care they took of their property, the more it retained its “integrity” and the more resistance there was to change.
If you are unlucky enough to have been subjectively included on the Inventory in 1981, you are forced into an additional Heritage Committee review where your remodel dreams would be sent to the bottom of the design sea, weighed down by the anvil of the Secretary of the Interior standards as interpreted by seven lay people on the Heritage Committee.
Remodel proposals for Inventory homes are routinely rejected by the City because proposals do not conform to the Secretary of the Interior standards for the “treatment” of “historic resources.” Those lucky enough to get past the Planning application desk will then be shuttled off to the Heritage Committee. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on these applications and extra Planning hearings by the Heritage Committee. And, still, the owners of homes listed on the Inventory have been and are deprived of an opportunity to be heard regarding whether or not the home is historic before they are muscled into the Heritage Committee process. Homes on the Inventory are conclusively presumed by the City to be historic resources.
Requirements placed on the City’s Zoning staff caused them to require Inventory properties to be assessed by an architectural historian, at the homeowner’s expense. This historic assessment routinely costs between $7,000 and $15,000. If the owner’s selected architectural historian determines that the home lacks “historicity” because it has been changed over time, the Heritage Committee and City can routinely force the homeowner to pay thousands of dollars more for the City’s selected historian to “peer review” the original report for which the owner had already paid thousands of dollars. An owner of an Inventory home can be into the process for $30,000 to $50,000 just to resolve the “historicity” piece of the process.
More absurd, if the City-required peer review concurs with the owner’s finding that the property is not historic, the Heritage Committee has been known to reject both the owner and the peer review reports and simply deems the property historic. On at least one occasion, a member of the Zoning staff actually provided input into the peer review document, rendering the peer review report worthless or at least unreliable.
What makes this sting all the more is that five years after its creation, the Inventory was never legally valid to create a presumption of historicity at all, because it was never maintained according to requirements of Public Resources Code Section 5024.1(g). This fact was acknowledged by the City Attorney on September 30, 2015.
Dreams have been dashed and thousands of dollars have been spent by homeowners forced to follow a process that was not properly required by the law. Homeowners, like retired fireman Gene and other seniors just like him, have been deprived of the right to do routine window, door and siding repair without first complying with the Secretary of the Interior standards. An application that should have been granted over-the-counter required an historic assessment because of the Inventory, and a mistaken process requirement by the City’s Zoning staff.
And so we arrive at fireman Gene’s heroic last stand. While many of us were focused on the aftermath of Presidential election debates, Gene was trying to salvage his property rights before the Heritage Committee, which was putting the finishing touches on a proposed revision to the “Historic Preservation Ordinance” that makes the old Inventory look like child’s play.
As proposed, the new law will immediately impact the rights of an estimated 4,000 of the 10,000 residential properties in Laguna Beach, because if you own a home that was built in or before 1955, you are subject to the Secretary of the Interior standards when you sell or “alter” your home, unless determined not to be “historic.” This may require a professional historical assessment. Like people on the flawed Inventory, you no longer live in a home. You live in an “historic resource.” You have to disclose that fact when you sell your house, and so does your real estate agent.
And what’s worse is, you are doomed to the preferences of the person who built your house before 1955, even if the original designer had no architectural taste at all. Most of us are drawn to Laguna Beach because it is a community that supports creativity and individual expression. However, if the Heritage Committee has its way, going forward you will be subjected not only to Design Review, but also to an historic assessment. And owners will be severely limited to what they can do with their homes.
Forget about expressing your tastes through your own architectural style, which a majority of the Heritage Committee thinks is okay. One member observed that homeowners would still be free to express their individual tastes on the inside of their homes. Anything on the outside is no longer yours; it now belongs to the Heritage Committee.
As heavy-handed as these events sound, if you attended the hearings you would have heard one Heritage Committee member arguing for greater ability to “capture” more properties and bring them under her jurisdiction. Another member advocated that homes over 45 years old would be automatically included. Under his standards, by 2061 every home in Laguna Beach would be historic. Icing on the cake of this process is that four of the seven members of the Heritage Committee defied the direction of the City Attorney and voted to include in their proposed ordinance the properties identified in the invalid inventory as “C” structures.
Even the City historian, who has a very low threshold, opined that these homes were not historic but were just old. In their zeal, Heritage Committee members Rick Gold, Ann Frank, Linda Morganlander and Regina Hartley ignored the opinion of the historian, the direction of the City Attorney and the input of the public, and sought to drag in as many homes as possible. They broke ranks with their more rational colleagues, Clark Collins, Mike Boone and Debbie Lewis, and produced the proposed ordinance demanded by the small and vocal group.
This is not intended to be an indictment of the Heritage Committee, or of any appointed Committee or Board. The work that they do is difficult, and they are dedicated and well intentioned. Still, I heartily disagree with the end product. The hearing process, in which the public testimony was ordinarily limited to two minutes per speaker, ignored property ownership rights. Special and dominating voice was given to groups who want to control what property owners are allowed to do with their own homes. Committee member Morganlander admitted that she has a “focus group” with which she meets outside of the public hearings. This just seems wrong!
If this proposed ordinance goes unchecked, it will add an additional burden to already bewildering property development standards. The ordinance will petrify Laguna Beach. Any change to the exterior of the home will need to comply with the Secretary of the Interior standards. The Heritage Committee also contemplates the formulation of its own “Style Guide” that will dictate what homeowners do.
Respectfully but honestly, this seems nuts!
Most people in town, including me, enthusiastically support the concept of equitable preservation of views and privacy. Our Design Review ordinance is supposed to take care of that, and it does. The point is that Design Review is already expressly charged with ensuring that proposed designs are consistent with the pattern of development and the mass and scale of the neighborhood. If this proposed ordinance passes, it won’t be the owners or the neighbors who decide the architecture, even if the the owner and the neighbors all hate the existing structure and want it to be remodeled. Small, organized opposition will show up at the Heritage Committee to argue that the taste of some person who owned the house in 1955 should trump the taste and needs of the property owner. The house will be stuck in time like DNA in amber. There will be less and less fresh architecture: no new ideas, just old houses.
Our Historic Ordinance should do one thing and one thing only: Preserve properties that are actually “historic,” not just “old.” As stated in the General Plan, this should be a voluntary process laden with incentives and supported by a contract. It should not be compulsory.
Historicity should be established through a nominating and hearing process as described in the Laguna Beach Municipal Code and the Public Resources Code. If a house is not on the Register, it is not historic. Revisions to old houses will continue to be handled through Design Review, which will allow appropriate remodeling and updating of old homes that may no longer meet the needs of the owners. New windows, door, facades and floor plans, and even the size of the home may be freely revised in accordance with Design Review standards.
That works. Neighbors get a say, and so does the homeowner. The decision is not left to a long-dead, original designer and the Secretary of the Interior in Washington D.C., or a Heritage Committee Style Manual.
Restrictions are cumulative and can be devastating. For example, the Downtown is as dark as a dungeon at night. It does not look all that welcoming. Every year at Hospitality Night, people ask why we can’t have more light in the Downtown. It is because we have chosen darkness. The colors are fading into a common, drab, neutral, boring palate. Storefronts are vacant and brick and mortar retail is struggling to survive. Much of this is directly attributable to our regulatory schemes that creep into our Municipal Code over time. And the proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance is a doozy.
Again, this article is not intended as a criticism, in any way, of the diligent people appointed to serve on committees or discretionary boards who are charged with the obligation to carry out the applicable laws. Rather, this is an observation that Laguna Beach’s regulatory scheme is oppressive, regressive, and out of hand. If this proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance passes, the overall regulatory scheme will become much more burdensome. “Old” and “dilapidated” will be the new “historic.” The oldest art form, architecture, will be dead.
So while many of us focus on the aftermath of the Federal election debates, our rights are getting gashed right under our noses by our own local government. To people like fireman Gene, sometimes it is not the big and bureaucratic federal government that impacts your freedom; it is the small and local City government that needs to be watched.
As observed by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine:
“The myth of localism is rooted deep in our political psyche. Left and right alike use small and local as terms of approbation, big and bureaucratic as terms of abuse. None of us is equipped to see that the government that actually oppresses us is that which is closest to us.”
City Council and Planning Commissioners: Please reject this proposed Ordinance. Brighten and lighten things up a little! For the sake of current homeowners and for the generations to come . . .
LET LAGUNA LIVE!
Laurence P. Nokes
Psychologists across this great nation say Donald Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder characterized by making it clear he knows everything. He insists on being the exception to the rule. He projects an image of superiority, makes a great first impression but quickly wears out his welcome. He boosts his ego by implying others are inferior, assuming everyone adores him and putting his own feelings ahead of other people’s needs.
Could we elect a mentally ill president?
U.S. psychologists like Harvard’s professor Howard Gardner says Donald Trump is a textbook narcissistic person. Clinical psychologist George Simon told Vanity Fair that Trump’s “lies are so classic, that I am researching video clips to use in workshops.”
Trump’s shortage of empathy can be seen clearly in his stances on immigration, Muslims, women, etc.
Would he act on behalf of the people or would he be a dictator?
Trump or Clinton in November?
Will it be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? I’m hearing this question being asked from one end of town to the other now.
Generally speaking, voters care about two issues in a national election: First, which presidential candidate has the best economic plan for our future; and second, which of the two candidates will keep America safest.
If you believe the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and several other financial publications, consumer confidence today is at its highest level since 2007 (which marked the beginning of the great recession). If, as Donald Trump claims, a Hillary Clinton presidency will be tantamount to a third Barack Obama term in office, then bring it on. Building on the president’s record of success, my hope is Hillary can extend the record job growth and stock market climb, as well as reduce America’s debt and unemployment rate.
As for keeping America safe, it’s pretty clear which candidate former high ranking military, state department and homeland security officials support. When you add in the fact that none of the five living presidents, from Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush to Obama, endorse candidate Trump, I’d say this truly is a vital piece of the safety puzzle voters need to consider when picking the next commander in chief.
As a student of politics for decades and a sixty-something father of three, I have voted in every presidential election since 1972. That said, I never have seen an election year like this one. With approximately six weeks still to go in this cycle, I’m bracing for several “October surprises.” And why not?
Hasn’t this campaign season been one giant surprise after another?
Vote for Verna
Do you want a city council person who is more responsive to Laguna residents or to visitors? If you answer residents, your choice for city council should be Verna Rollinger. Council members, Steve Dicterow and Bob Whalen persisted in supporting the building of a visitor-serving parking garage at the Village Entrance at a cost of $65 million despite public opposition. It took establishing a public movement, the Let Laguna Vote campaign, to cause Dicterow and Whalen to finally scrap the plan to build the garage. Verna Rollinger was a part of the opposition from the beginning and a leader in Let Laguna Vote.
Another example of insensitivity to residents’ concerns is when Whalen and Dicterow went against City Staff and Planning Commission’s proposed ordinance to prohibit short- term lodging in residential neighborhoods. The community expected the council to adopt the ordinance as recommended but Whalen and Dicterow formed a sub-committee to find a way to allow some short-term lodging in our neighborhoods. Another grass-roots campaign was required before Dicterow and Whalen relented and adopted the Planning Commission ordinance.
If the incumbents had a better ear for resident concerns, the community wouldn’t need to expend such efforts to campaign against their unpopular ideas.
For these reasons and more, I urge you to vote for Verna.