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Councilmember requests ask to consider policy requiring mayoral roles rotate, parking solutions at new recreation center, reconsider removal of tree, evaluate joining open space coalition


There are several interesting items on next week’s Laguna Beach City Council agenda and most of them are requests from councilmembers.

At the Tuesday (Nov. 21) meeting, there are four councilmember requests: To establish a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles; to direct staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center; to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar, and to authorize staff to evaluate benefits and implications of joining the Natural Communities Coalition.

Also on the agenda, council will consider an Art in Public Places installation at a mixed-use project at 1369 North Coast Highway, and proposed revisions to the underground utility assessment deferment loan program.

A notable councilmember item last up on the agenda: A request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

The memo from Weiss doesn’t go into detail, but he notes that requiring the rotation will “enhance the opportunity for each councilmember to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem.”

Although the item notice is short, there have been a number of public comments in the past suggesting the council switch up the largely ceremonial seats.

Councilmember requests ask to consider policy St Catherine

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Photo by Steven Georges/Diocese of Orange

Council will consider a request next week to direct staff to explore parking solutions for the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School)

In another councilmember request, Mayor Bob Whalen is asking the council to consider directing staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center.

The city purchased the property at 30516 Coast Highway (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School) in late 2022. The site features approximately 39,500 square feet of former instructional and related facilities on about 6.5 acres of property served by 42 parking spaces.

An interim use plan for the property was approved on January 24, which allowed for immediate use of the gym and the already established facilities. The gym has been activated by the city’s recreation staff to accommodate adult drop-in basketball, indoor pickleball, futsal, drop-in volleyball, youth volleyball clubs, and other city contracted youth recreation classes. The courtyard area is being used for youth skateboarding classes, and some of the former classrooms are being used for preschool age programming, art and science classes, and summer camps offered by the city.

In Whalen’s memo on the item, he noted that the site will also be home to marine safety and police department substations, fire station administrative staff and an emergency operations center in the near future. These will be housed in the former administrative offices and adjacent classrooms, and will require approximately eight to 12 staff parking spaces.

At the March 21 meeting, council unanimously approved the interim use facility reservation program and the license agreement policy and associated fee schedule for the center. The facility reservation and rental program provides residents, nonprofits serving Laguna Beach, and other community organizations the opportunity to use the facility in coordination with the city’s recreation programming and other planned civic uses.

When council contemplated purchasing the property, they anticipated that the facilities would be ultimately repurposed to serve the broader community in a manner to be determined, pending completion of a master plan of the site evaluating all potential long term uses, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“As the City Council, and the community at large, continues to consider the optimal uses of the city’s newest public asset, it seems that the exploration of available parking solutions is an urgent need that must be undertaken by staff to inform us in our deliberations,” he said.

The first request on the agenda under councilmember items, is another request from Whalen for the council to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar.

Whalen is recommending that the city solicit, under the direction of the city manager or his designee, a level three risk assessment of the tree by a third-party certified arborist, to include ground-penetrating radar root mapping to determine the tree’s underlying root structure, performance of a static pull test and any recommendations for tree pruning to provide the council, and the community, an even more comprehensive understanding of the relative health and viability of the tree.

Council approved removing the tree on October 24. His decision supporting removal of the tree under the conditions described by the city’s arborist was a difficult one, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“However, I believed that it was the correct decision at the time,” he wrote. “Since then, I have been persuaded by the numerous requests of local residents to gather additional information to see if our prior decision should remain or be revised.”

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In deciding to make this request, Whalen said he was particularly persuaded by the comments of Howard Englander, the resident in the closest proximity to the subject tree, who said that he would support the city seeking a level three assessment if councilmembers thought that to be the most judicious.

“I am moved to ask my colleagues’ support to authorize additional steps to gather data upon which we can rely to determine whether we want to alter our prior decision,” Whalen noted.

In the report for the October 24 item, staff notes that the sidewalk adjacent to the base of the tree was reconstructed to eliminate tripping hazards caused by the roots uplifting and breaking the concrete panels in spring 2021. Since that time, the city arborists noted a “steady decline in crown vigor on the corresponding side of the canopy which can indicate root dysfunction and/or decay that is having a negative impact on the tree’s viability.” Staff also notes that the tree has a significant natural lean toward the impacted root zone.

At the October meeting, several public speakers voiced concern about the removal of the tree and argued that the decision was premature.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda, Councilmembers Mark Orgill and George Weiss are asking the council to authorize staff to evaluate joining the Natural Communities Coalition. The request is also for the city attorney to review legal ramifications and return to council with the information necessary to consider seeking city membership in the Coalition.

They are asking staff to determine the operational benefits and implications of being a member of the NCC, an Irvine-based nonprofit charitable organization that coordinates science and land management with local partners across the nearly 38,000-acre Natural Reserve of Orange County. The board of directors includes wildlife agencies, and public and private landowners participating in and benefiting from the Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan, a habitat planning and conservation effort for the central and coastal subregion of Orange County.

Councilmember requests ask to consider policy Sea Breeze art

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Art by Rahul Jobalia/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A sketch of “Sea Breeze Symphony” sculpture by Rahul Jobalia, which is proposed as the Art in Public Places installation for a mixed-use project at 1369 North Coast Highway

Earlier in the meeting, on the consent calendar (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider approving an Art in Public Places installation at mixed-use project at 1369 North Coast Highway.

The wall-mounted, stainless steel sculpture titled Sea Breeze Symphony by Rahul Jobalia will be located on an existing wall facing the highway. According to the staff report, the design takes its inspiration from the undulating curves and forms of ocean waves. The sculpture measures five feet in height by seven feet, four inches in width, by six inches in depth. It will be installed on a cement wall and will be finished in a stainless patina. The Arts Commission unanimously approved it on October 9.

The property is being developed by TLB, LLC, as a mixed-use project of five condominium units (three commercial units and two residential units). It was initially approved in 2008, but after a change in ownership of the property and confusion over city deadlines caused some delay, it returned to the Planning Commission on April 6, 2022. Commissioners, and later the council, unanimously approved the tentative tract map and a Coastal Development Permit.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, during regular business, council will consider revisions to the underground utility assessment deferment loan program.

Staff is recommending the council approve lowering the age limit for property owners to qualify for the loan deferment program from age 62 to age 55; increasing the household income requirements to 15% above the Orange County moderate income limit, as determined by the department of Housing and Urban Development, for the year in which they apply; and reducing the fiscal year 2023-24 transfer from the street lighting and utility fund to the wildfire mitigation and fire safety fund by $500,000 and reappropriate this amount for the assessment deferment loan program, thereby increasing the total program budget to $700,000.

The city created the program in 2016 to assist property owners facing significant financial difficulty when paying assessment and private connection costs associated with underground utility assessment districts. The program offers relief to property owners who meet specific criteria, according to the staff report. Currently, that criteria includes that the affected property must be their primary residence, they are over the age of 62, and have a household income that falls at or below the Orange County moderate income limit as determined by the state department of housing and community development. The staff report for next week’s item notes that qualified residents can postpone their assessment by borrowing from the city. The borrowed amount is equal to the annual assessments, which include their share of bond and related interest payments as they become due, along with the one-time private connection costs. The borrowing carries an annual interest rate of 1% above the interest rate assigned on the bonds for the assessment district. The loan becomes due, plus accrued interest, upon the property sale or transfer of ownership.

Council directed staff at their September 26 meeting to re-evaluate the program’s guidelines and to broaden the applicant criteria, thereby allowing a larger number of property owners to qualify for relief.

The council agenda is available online here. The closed session will begin at 4 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 5 p.m.

Members of the public may speak in person in council chambers.

To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call 669.900.9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 91641723096#. If you have issues getting into the Zoom meeting or raising your virtual hand to comment, you may text the city clerk at 310.722.5051.

The meeting can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, Calif. 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on November 20 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments.

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. on November 21 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on November 21, councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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