Historical Preservation Ordinance: CEQA’s role is misunderstood

Please attend the Council meeting, Dec. 16 [at] 9 a.m.  The Planning Commission ordinance revisions expand the definition of an “historical resource” under the CEQA law. Hundreds of homes Laguna will become subject to time consuming historical reviews at your expense.

CEQA grants each city the legal right to enact, or not, an historical preservation (HP) ordinance, in their sole discretion. There are over 500 cities in CA. The CA Office of HP reports less than 100 cities have HP ordinances. Ron Parsons, State Historian told me “there is no legal requirement that a city have a registration program or an inventory”.  Over 400 cities have opted not to have a HP law. 

The proposed revisions build on the flawed 1981 survey. Using the drive-by opinion of a paid consultant the list is now about 1018 and each is “recoded”. This list includes some of 298 homes now on the old “registry”. This means over 720 homes will be “un-registered” but designated a HR against your will. It gets worse. All homes over 70 years old will be treated as HR’s. In time, thousands of homes will become subject to costly historical reviews. You will be “presumed guilty” and forced to defend your home at your expense. All based on an arbitrary consultant’s opinion.  Dozens complained about this at the PC meetings, but some commissioners said Sorry, CEQA is making us do this!”  Not true.

The ordinance requires registrants to sign an undefined “agreement”. The actual agreement (not on-line) co

mmits all current and future owners to accept control of your home by the City ... forever! It appears Laguna may be the only city with this onerous agreement. It denies due process, excludes the   right to terminate, and forces you to accept change of law risk. It conflicts violently with the 10 year Mills Act contract.

The City Council should reject the revised ordinance, suspend it, and instruct the staff to design a new ordinance which respects homeowner rights and immunizes owners from unwanted CEQA controls. All registrations should be strictly voluntary. There is no need for expensive inventories or surveys. Mills Act contracts should be the only incentive. Stop the practice of forcing a homeowner on a perpetual registry before they can apply for Mills Act. Other cities don’t have this disincentive.

Other cities have preservation society charities (Laguna has none) which has proven that the historical character can be preserved by voluntary actions and residents who love our history. Design Review has done a good job of protecting each of us from a neighbor who wants to “mansionize”, block iconic views, or disrupt the historical pattern of development. Other than a voluntary registration/Mills Act program, we don’t need this complicated, unfair, over reaching “revised” ordinance. 

Doug Cortez

Laguna Beach


Setting the record straight: Robert Elster, Emergency Disaster Preparedness Council Vice-chair, clarifies his views on undergrounding

This is in reference to Barbara Diamond’s December 8th article on the Laguna Beach City Council Meeting of December 5th. While I was quoted twice in the article, some sort of an honorable recognition I suppose, in part I was misquoted and would like to set the record straight. I am firmly in support of undergrounding of utilities within the city, particularly along major evacuation routes from the city.

In paragraph eight of the article, Ms. Diamond incorrectly grouped me with Judy Mancuso in claiming that the proposed survey would be “be spun to get the response the council wanted…”  While this was Ms. Mancuso’s assertion, it was not mine.  My comment was that the proposed survey of 500 residents seemed to be an inordinately small number, roughly two percent of the Laguna Beach population, and suggested that the survey size be increased.  

I did suggest that the survey, particularly of a larger population, would also be an opportunity to personally ensure that the residents surveyed were fully informed, before they responded, of the proposed General Obligation bond purpose, the proposed Community Facilities District, and the financial impact to each of the surveyed residents of both the GO and the CFD.  That’s not spinning the survey.

In paragraph 10, I was also quoted regarding the danger of telephone poles and lines falling in an earthquake and blocking egress routes for residents.  While true that I did mention earthquakes, the major point of my comments was that overhead utility lines and poles are threats in more ways than just starting fires, and are more common occurrences. For instance, downing of poles and electrical lines due to traffic accidents can block streets and impede first responder access to accidents, as well as disrupting commercial and residential traffic; this can happen, and has, on both major arteries / evacuation routes and on feeder streets in Laguna Beach neighborhoods.  Replacement of damaged poles and overhead power lines can further disrupt traffic.

Robert E. Elster

Vice-Chair, Emergency Disaster Preparedness Council

Laguna Beach


Don’t forget Sandy Hook

As we approach Dec. 14, the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I want to remind everyone to keep the memories of the 20 youngsters and six adults who were gunned down alive. I can’t begin to understand what the families of the innocents who died that terrible morning must still be feeling; nonetheless, I want them to know there hardly is a day that goes by that I don’t think about their loved ones.  Maybe it’s because I have three children or that I taught preschool at Anneliese’s in 1974-75.  No matter the reason, my hope is one day Congress will do the right thing and pass effective, responsible gun safety laws. Only then will the families and I feel a sense of closure to one of the most horrific events in modern American history. 

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach


Morass of above ground utilities is the single biggest threat to our public safety

The City Council at its recent meeting voted unanimously to advance the measures to bury overhead power lines in Laguna Beach. I applaud this decision, and urge the whole community to do so. We all should support this important effort for the compelling reason that the morass of above ground utilities is the single biggest threat to our public safety.

Laguna Canyon Road, our other critical ingress/egress roads as well as over 60 percent of our residential neighborhoods continue to have above ground archaic and dangerous power lines and transformers. This is totally unacceptable and should concern us all for many reasons.

The fact is that above ground power lines and transformers throughout our City present an imminent risk of catastrophic fire - whether triggered by winds, other weather conditions, earthquakes, malfunction or other causes. Recall the devastating 1993 Laguna fire and the recent Tubbs fire in Santa Rosa which was caused by above ground electric wires. These fires ravished the communities, destroying thousands of homes (including my sister-in-law’s), even into areas where utilities are already underground. And beyond fires, downed power lines and poles, from whatever the cause, present significant safety risks including electrocution from live wires and blocking access for people evacuating and first responders arriving in the face of a catastrophic event, as well as overhead wire radiation and the risk of collusion to motor vehicles.

Undergrounding also carries significant benefits including (1) City beautification, (2) increased property values, (3) improved pedestrian circulation by removal of obstructing poles in the middle of sidewalks which particularly hinder access for the disabled, (4) undergrounding provides the opportunity to cost effectively add high speed internet fiber (and needed competition to the Cox Cable high-speed internet monopoly).

There are some “naysayers” who advance arguments which I do not find persuasive in the face of the extreme life safety risks. One is that undergrounding is too costly, but those costs pale in comparison to the losses from a fire or other catastrophic event, not only monetary but the human toll in injury or death, and the destruction of our homes, possessions and memories. Another is that the risk from above ground utilities is overblown, but just ask our Fire and Police Departments, or any of the thousands of people who lost their homes in the Tubbs fire and many others that have been cause by overhead wires. 

And another is that people who have already paid to underground utilities in their neighborhoods will have to pay twice, but the Council has made clear that will not occur. Only those areas not yet undergrounded will pay for that work. The whole community will only pay for undergrounding Laguna Canyon Road and the other critical ingress and egress routes which benefit us all.

The recent winds and fires bring home the point - the time to underground is NOW.

Tom Gibbs

Laguna Beach


Meter/property owners should be exclusive focus of the Council survey

Your paper reports that: “Councilman Bob Whalen, an early advocate of a bond to rid the city of overhead utility poles along major evacuation routes, reiterated his position. 

“I feel strongly that we have to go to the voters and ask for support for a city-wide measure to fund evacuation routes,” said Whalen.

Who pays the cost of any such bond, the voters or property owners? It is not right for voters who may not be property owners to force a cost onto property owners who may not even vote in Laguna. This issue is just “spin” if meter/property owners are not the exclusive focus of the Council survey, if the bond is to go on the property tax and not paid for by “the voters”!

RT Price

Laguna Beach


Letters from readers about undergrounding utilities – and other issues – are getting quite lively

Utility poles or eucalyptus trees, which are the greatest fire dangers? Our readers have strong opinions – see our Letters page. 

(“Let’s underground [all] the trees and all currently above ground utility wiring,” reader John Walker offers, with more than a touch of sarcasm.)

But seriously, and appropriately, most of the controversy swirls around cost, exactly who will pay and how costs will be calculated, as well as the relative risks of maintaining the status quo.

Click on photo for a larger image

Is the tree or the utility pole the greater danger?

Robert Elster, vice chair of the Emergency Disaster Preparedness Council, makes the point that, fire issues aside, “downing of poles and electrical lines due to traffic accidents can block streets and impede first responder access to accidents, as well as disrupting commercial and residential traffic; this can happen, and has, on both major arteries/evacuation routes and on feeder streets in Laguna Beach neighborhoods.”

Tom Gibbs agrees. On the cost issue, he notes: “The whole community will only pay for undergrounding Laguna Canyon Road and the other critical ingress and egress routes which benefit us all.”

But J T Price has a question: “Who pays the cost of any such bond, the voters or property owners? It is not right for voters who may not be property owners to force a cost onto property owners who may not even vote in Laguna.”

Focus on local access routes

However important undergrounding might seem to some, low-income residents including Sandi Werthe are understandably concerned about increased property taxes.

“I live on Top of the World and our utilities have always been underground so I feel, as a low income resident, that I shouldn’t have to pay to underground another neighborhood’s utilities.  

“As to undergrounding local access routes, that would be a different story,” she says.

Keep those letters coming to editor Lynette at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We want to know what you think about the pros and cons of the City Council’s approach to undergrounding; the Historic Preservation Ordinance; Park Plaza; and other issues of interest to Lagunans.

 (The City Council last Tuesday voted to pay consultants almost $250,000 to determine community support for undergrounding overhead utility lines and prepare ballot measures to support funding.

Council members unanimously approved the expenditure to test public acceptance of either of two measures proposed for the 2018 ballot: one to fund undergrounding along evacuation routes by a general obligation bond, and the second to form a special district to pay for undergrounding all neighborhoods still served by overhead utilities.)

--Lynette Brasfield


Title IX under attack

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently announced that her department will be revisiting the Title IX guidelines on campus sexual assault. The effect of any changes will tilt the balance of federal guidance to make it harder to discipline the thousands of students, almost all of them men, who are accused of sexual violence against women each year and return us to the era during which young women were stigmatized for speaking up

According to Brett Sokolow, Executive Director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, 10,000 to 12,000 cases of campus rape reach the disciplinary phase every year.  Add to that the many cases of reported and unreported sexual harassment, stalking and relationship violence and it becomes clear that on-campus violence is a critical problem deserving weighty consequences.

But how these cases should be handled is a challenge for any administration.  How do schools show support for the survivors while insuring fairness to both parties? 

In 1972, the first comprehensive federal law to prohibit discrimination in education was passed.  Title IX covers women and men, girls and boys, and staff and students in any educational institution or program that receives federal funds. In regard to complaints of sexual misconduct, it requires that school policies must provide for prompt and equitable investigation and resolution. It prohibits retaliation against those who file complaints.  School policies must specifically indicate that sexual assault, even a single incident, is covered under Title IX.  Students have the right to file a complaint with the school if their rights under Title IX are violated, and victims may also file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights if a school’s policies or handling of complaints are not compliant with Title IX.  In addition, each federally funded institution (school district) must designate a Title IX Coordinator to oversee compliance and grievance procedures.  

The most controversial part of implementation of this law mandates that, in determining a verdict, officials must use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which makes it easier to find offenders responsible than a “clear and convincing” evidence standard that some schools had been using.  Accusers are able to appeal a not guilty verdict, and efforts must be made to spare the accuser from direct cross examination by the accused. 

Colleges and universities are in a delicate position, reluctant to dismantle the current system for addressing sexual assault, while anticipating the possible loss of federal funds for not conceding to new guidelines. 

Make no mistake; Title IX remains the law of the land and this announcement does not alter in any way schools’ responsibilities. DeVos’ speech noted many situations in which schools have failed to adhere to the law. The response to this challenge is to enforce Title IX more vigorously, not to undermine it. 

Now is the time for our local colleges and universities to step up and demonstrate that they will do the right thing for their students even in the midst of potential rollbacks from the Department of Education.  

The American Association of University Women stands with survivors of campus sexual assault and remains committed to protecting and defending Title IX.  We must ensure our nation’s dedication to full and equal proper responses to sexual harassment and violence.  After all, students’ access to an education in a safe and secure environment free from the threat of assault is on the line.  Schools, and the Department of Education, owe it to all students to uphold their civil rights, a promise Mrs. DeVos’ announcement would most certainly deny. 

Lee Winocur Field, Ph.D

Lee Winocur Field is a 32 year resident of Laguna Beach, retired public school teacher, Administrator and Professor of Education. She is a former President of the Laguna Beach Branch of the American Association of University Women, and currently co-President of the San Clemente-Capistrano Bay Branch.


Make Park Plaza More Appealing and Permanent

We thank the City for extending temporary use of the Park Plaza space, but the City needs to do more: a) expedite the process to install a long overdue left-hand turn signal at Laguna Avenue; b) allow food/coffee carts from neighboring restaurants to be placed on the sidewalk opposite the Adonis restaurant; c) make the space more visually appealing (instead of multiple cement blockades and flashing “ROAD CLOSURE” signs, create a more aesthetically pleasing and inviting entrance); and d) cover the asphalt, install a small fountain or add other enhancements.  

Ellen and Roger Kempler

Laguna Beach


A win-win solution to utilities, trees, and Park Plaza issues

Here is a win -win for everybody.

Let’s underground the trees and all currently above ground utility wiring.

We can leave all the homeless pigeons to roost in Park Plaza or they can all get the flock out of here.

John Walker

Laguna Beach


Obituary

David J McDonald Jr.

David J McDonald, Jr., died peacefully of natural causes in his Laguna Beach home on 10/29/17. McDonald was a Professor of Drama at UCI until 2004. He earned his PhD from Stanford, his MFA from the Yale School of Drama and his BA from the University of Notre Dame.

During his career, he was the Founding Director of the Humanities Research Institute for the UC system, collaborated with Murray Krieger of the School of Criticism and Theory, directed plays, served as editor of Theatre Journal, and was instrumental in brining prominent international scholars, such as Jerzy Grotowski and Robert Weiman to campus.

He was also very instrumental in establishing the UCI Department of Drama and UC San Diego Department of Theatre’s Joint Doctoral Program in Drama and Theatre.

McDonald was born in Pittsburgh, PA to David J McDonald, former president of the Steel Workers Union (1960s) and Emily Price McDonald.

McDonald leaves behind his wife, Maura, and two sons: Sean, a book publisher in New York, and Charlie, a middle school math teacher and coach in Santa Ana, and three grandchildren. 

The family will hold a private memorial service in which his ashes will be spread in the Pacific Ocean, per his wishes.


Undergrounding access routes versus neighborhoods’ utilities

I live on Top of the World and our utilities have always been underground so I feel, as a low income resident, that I shouldn’t have to pay to underground another neighborhood’s utilities.  

As to undergrounding local access routes, that would be a different story.

Sandi Werthe

Laguna Beach


Undergrounding makes sense

While I am sure people are going to be up in arms about this I feel it is a good investment in the city to under ground the lines. I would be willing to pay more in taxes to have a safer (and visually cleaner city). Overhead poles/lines are a danger, inconvenience (whenever the canyon is closed due to an accident), and an eye sore. Hopefully we can come up with some answers to this problem. 

Kristen Weaver

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza is not attractive

Is it true it cost $24,000 to stage the Park Plaza in Laguna?  If so, the company/person who designed and staged it, made quite a profit!

It is not attractive at all and the tables and chairs look cheap and do not adhere to the beauty and charm of Laguna Beach.

We would not vote for the Park Plaza, as it is an eye sore at its current stage.

As Laguna Beach residents for 28 years, it is just our humble opinion.

Debbie and Mike Thornton

Laguna Beach


In favor of Park Plaza with reservations

Personally, I’d like Forest closed to traffic. All the walking streets I’ve ever seen increase foot traffic, which I feel would be an asset to all the shops on the street. So I was pleased to see a closure at Park Plaza but although I say I’m in favor of it I am disappointed in what it actually is. I would never sit down on a metal chair on an asphalt street. There is no beauty or character here. Why would anyone sit there with the beach beckoning?

Perry Stampfel

Laguna Beach


Let’s get the utilities underground

I ran the undergrounding of utilities in the El Mirador neighborhood. It made a huge difference for everyone and increased our property values. 

I noticed that Goff and Park Ave intersection had a lot of utility work on Tuesday. Lots of equipment, trucks and workers snoozing in their trucks. It was a repair and reinforcement of existing poles.

Let’s get all Laguna utilities underground and in the Canyon too.

Walker Reed

Laguna Beach


Undergrounding: Do the math

Do the math...estimated cost $250,000,000...Utility electric meters 15,000...equals about $17,000 per meter.

The effective cost of a $17,000 20 year bond will be about $100/month at current interest rates. Who wants to be forced to pay an additional $100/month for electricity?

So here is what should happen. Each meter gets a vote. Votes are counted. Take the number of votes in favor and divide them into $250,000,000.  Inform the in favor voters what their new share of the cost would be and take another vote. Continue this process until the new vote is the same as the last vote and issue a bond to the remaining in favor voters for their share.

J T Price

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza a great idea but needs fixing

I love the Plaza idea, but the execution caught most folks off guard. It looks nothing like the renderings, which had plants and more substantial/elegant furniture. Fix those things and I think most folks will come around. The temporary road block makes it look like a construction zone, and that wasn’t in the renderings as well. 

Kirk Morgan

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza not a good plan

I vote no. It messes up traffic circulation. If you come from the north and try to get to the parking structure your only choice is Forest Ave, which is always congested, or to drive up to Legion and try to make a left turn. The light at Legion backs up traffic on Coast Hwy.  

Not a good plan. The park only seems to benefit one restaurant. I would rather see more benches if the city wants places for people to sit.

Larry Lewis

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza is tacky

No to the tacky looking Park Plaza. I have been a regular user of the Library for the last 60 years and now it is difficult to get to and find a place to park. In summer when traffic backs up from upper Park Avenue trying to get to Coast Highway, there is no way to turn into the library as cars are backed up beyond Glenneyre. On Coast Highway turning left onto Forest, or turning right onto Forest backs up, even when the lower Park section was open for traffic. Just what we do not need is losing parking spaces.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Roger Butow.

Robert Leedom

Laguna Beach


Undergrounding is not worth the cost

Cosmetically pleasing as undergrounding may be, it is not worth the cost. Recently the City emerged from a bond issue that tapped permanent residents for the past 20 years on exactly the same issue: undergrounding.

An issue de jour promoting undergrounding, power lines cause fires, should be applied to a real problem here in Laguna: trees! Hiding under such excuses as ‘takings’ and aesthetics, trees are the source of genuine harm with exfoliation and view blocking. The trees most flagrantly errant are palms and eucalyptuses, neither of which being indigenous to Laguna Beach yet a gutless City Council refuses to undertake remedial programs such as that in Palos Verdes to mitigate their tree problem.

Insofar as undergrounding is concerned you need look no further than the experience of other Southern California cities in which vault fires, flooding and the effects of landslides and earthquakes have caused significant power disruptions. Undergrounding shall result in significant power disruption is simply a matter of time.

Finally, it is apparent that any such measure will probably pass since most voters are renters or ‘home owners’ for a nominal seven years with little or no vested interest in the community and to whom the cosmetic and superficial appeal. But the permanent residents get stuck with another couple of hundred dollars tacked onto their property taxes for the next 20 years.

John Kountz

Laguna Beach


In support of undergrounding

Has anyone met with someone on the Del Mar City council to inquire about their successful underground transformation? Del Mar is a town much like Laguna, and the residents are extremely happy with the results they achieved. The city is more beautiful than ever without the electrical poles and wires – and so much safer now that the utilities are out of harm’s way. Just taking a drive through Del Mar makes one aware of how much more open and pleasing the vista is minus the utility lines, connections, power boxes, and poles. I don’t know how much time it took to accomplish such results, or what the cost was to the city, but I imagine that information is readily available upon inquiry.

We have lived in Laguna for over forty years, and we are totally in support of the proposed undergrounding in our own town. It is our fervent hope that this project will be accomplished within the next few years.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our thoughts and feelings on this issue.

Linda and Mike Hogan

Laguna Beach


Park Plaza restricts flow of traffic

This is perhaps the most idiotic concept of a “park “ I have ever seen.

In a city replete with beautiful parks and spectacular beaches, why would we further eliminate parking spaces and restrict the flow of traffic?

Douglas Ammerman

Laguna Beach

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