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Council adopts budget, approves community grants, bus passes for Audubon neighborhood, new parking officer

By SARA HALL

City Council approved the 2022-23 budget, with some revisions to the 2021-22 adopted budget, during their meeting this week.

Council unanimously approved several recommendations on Tuesday (June 21). A few notable items include a new parking services officer, funds to purchase discounted summer bus passes for the Audubon neighborhood, and community and cultural arts grants, which included an additional $10,000 from leftover general fund money for three smaller organizations.

Most of the budget discussion revolved around the Community Assistance Grants and the Cultural Arts Grants programs.

Councilmember George Weiss noted that the subcommittee did a good job on allocating the funds, with the exception of the amount recommended (less than the requested amount) for the Laguna Beach Community Clinic. During the 2021-22 fiscal year, the clinic requested and received $25,000. In the current year’s budget, the clinic requested $35,000 and the subcommittee recommended $25,000.

With the ongoing COVID-19 cases and inflation, it’s important that the clinic receives funds, he noted, particularly compared to other cultural arts group that get funds from both the Community Assistance Grants and the Cultural Arts Grants.

“Health is something that’s so important to productivity and to the welfare of the community, I would have liked to see a better amount of money going to the free clinic,” Weiss said. “I’m still opposed to double dipping on these grants from the community grants to the arts grants because there’s three or four organizations that get both. It’s just odd to me.”

It’s a challenge to fairly distribute the funds when the organizations’ requests total more than they have to hand out, noted Mayor Sue Kempf, who was on this year’s subcommittee that reviewed the grant requests and allocated funds.

“These are hard because…the appetite is way bigger than the stomach,” she said.

The clinic raises quite a bit of money during their fundraisers, Kempf added, responding to Weiss’ point.

Councilmember Toni Iseman noted some concerns that some organizations have trouble fundraising, while others excel at hosting fundraising events.

“They know how to put on a party and those parties create money,” she said. “And then there are other organizations that don’t have that luxury.”

She also echoed Weiss’ concern about some organizations that “double dip” on both grant programs.

She suggested some adjusting be made so the Laguna Beach Cultural Center, Seaside Legal Services and PUP Laguna Beach would receive more.

Council adopts budget Cultural Arts Center

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center founder Rick Conkey

The LB Cultural Arts Center has created a special niche in the community, Iseman said. 

“The doors are open, but they need more money,” she noted. 

In 2021-22, the Cultural Arts Center requested $25,000 and didn’t receive any from the Community Assistance Grants program. This year, the Center requested $10,000 and the subcommittee recommended $5,000.

The Center also requested $43,850 from the Cultural Arts Grants program and the subcommittee recommended $15,000. During the last fiscal year, the Center received $4,000 from this grant funding program.

Seaside Legal Services requested $20,000 in 2021-22 and received $6,000. The same amount was requested during this fiscal year and the subcommittee recommended $5,000.

PUP Laguna Beach requested $4,000 and the subcommittee recommended $500 (the group didn’t make a request during the previous fiscal year).

Iseman suggested they reduce some of the money recommended for KX 93.5 LB Radio, Inc.

The subcommittee recommended the radio station receive $23,000 between the two grant programs ($15,000 from the community grants and $8,000 from the cultural arts grants).

Iseman suggested keeping the $8,000 earmarked for the radio station, but distributing the $15,000 to the other, smaller organizations she pointed out.

The radio station has money in the bank and makes good revenue, Iseman said. 

“I don’t think we need to worry about them going hungry,” she said. “We’re trying to distribute our money to those that need it and I think that we have some that need it.”

But her fellow councilmembers were not on board with the idea. 

Kempf said she’s worked with them during emergencies and it’s vital to help keep the station running. 

 “They’re invaluable to us,” Kempf said. 

The radio station is a cultural outlet and a channel for safety information in the event of a fire or major disaster, Councilmember Peter Blake noted. 

“I’m not taking a penny from the radio station,” he said. “That’s hardly enough money to support all of their staff.”

Blake suggested taking funds from No Square Theatre or another organization. 

He’s already vetted all of the organizations, added Blake, who was on the subcommittee that divvied the funds up between the organizations’ requests.

The subcommittee did a good job allocating the funds, said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen.

“There were a few organizations that went down from last year, but the total pot went up from last year as well,” Whalen said. 

He also didn’t support reducing the radio station’s grant funds.

Whalen pointed out that they had $151,000 left over from the one-time general fund budget modifications and some of that could be added to the grant program and split up between a few other organizations.

Working from that idea, Iseman suggested the Cultural Arts Center receive $20,000, and both PUP and Seaside Legal receive $10,000 each.

Weiss then noted that the council had been discussing taking $5,000 to $10,000 from the leftover one-time general fund, not the large total amount Iseman was suggesting. Other councilmembers agreed it should be closer to that range.

Ultimately, all but Iseman agreed that $10,000 should be taken from that fund and allocated to the grant programming. 

Iseman then suggested $5,000 to the Center and divide the rest between PUP and Seaside, resulting in an additional $2,500 to each.

Council unanimously approved the recommended grants with the suggested additions. 

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Short, but important council agenda includes election items, budget, balloon ban request

By SARA HALL

City Council has a short, but important agenda tonight. 

At the meeting (Tuesday, June 21), council will consider: Several administrative election-related items, the fiscal year 2022-23 budget; and a councilmember request banning the sale and use of lighter than air balloons.

During regular business, council will consider adopting several administrative election-related items

The action will combine the municipal election with the statewide election, places three voter-initiated ballot measures on the ballot and adopts regulations for: Candidates’ statements, submit, set priorities for ballot measure arguments, direct an impartial analysis by the city attorney and provide rebuttal arguments.

Voters will elect three members of the City Council, each for the full term of four years. The candidate statement is not to exceed 200 words.

Several measures will also be on the ballot for voter consideration. 

The Laguna Residents First PAC’s initiative, titled “An ordinance creating an overlay zoning district and requiring voter approval of major development projects,” seeks to create an overlay zone that covers all property in the city located within 750 feet of the centerline of either Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon, which effectively encompasses 51% of all parcels in the city.

Council unanimously agreed on February 15 to send the measure, unaltered, to the ballot for voters to decide.

On May 10, council unanimously sent two more measures to the November ballot: “An Ordinance Amending the Laguna Beach Municipal Code to Create a Minimum Wage and Workplace Standards and Protections for Hotel Employees” and “An Ordinance Creating a Hotel Development Overlay Zoning District and Requiring Voter Approval of Hotel Development Projects.”

At this time, one more voter-initiated measure is undergoing signature verification by the Registrar of Voters. If it qualifies, the item will be before council at their July 12 meeting. 

Following council direction, staff returned on April 12 with land use and parking provisions to be considered for development of a future ordinance and/or an alternative ballot measure. Council voted 3-1-1, with Councilmember Toni Iseman dissenting and Weiss abstaining.

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City department head on the latest in development, parking and outdoor dining 

By SARA HALL

Development, parking and outdoor dining were a few of the hot topics discussed by a city department head during a community forum this week. 

Community Development Director Marc Wiener was the featured speaker on Wednesday (June 15) at the monthly community meeting for Laguna Forward, a recently formed local political action committee. The recorded meetings are open to the public and held via Zoom. The videos are posted on the group’s website following the meeting.

Almost two dozen people tuned in this week to hear Wiener discuss recent projects and programs. There’s been no shortage of challenges since he joined the staff more than two years ago, he said. 

Wiener explained some recent modifications to the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). The DSP is a planning document that serves to guide growth, design and development standards in downtown. 

An updated plan was adopted by the city council in July 2020. A unanimous California Coastal Commission approved the DSP-related changes to the city’s Local Coastal Program on December 15. The changes are primarily aimed at relaxing parking restrictions and allowing more uses. CCC also made some modifications that corrected and clarified ambiguities and ensures consistency with the Coastal Act. 

A split 3-2 council approved an updated DSP on January 25. Councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss dissented. The action accepted the CCC’s modifications and approved the LCP amendment.

The old process aimed to protect the character of the downtown, but “probably went a little too far” in some cases, Wiener said on Wednesday.

“I think the city council was wise to adopt modifications to the Downtown Specific Plan,” Wiener said. 

“Under the previous code, the DSP, it was very restrictive to open businesses in downtown and it was challenging to do anything that intensified the use because it required more parking,” he explained.

With the newly modified DSP, it “basically levels out parking rate” for different uses, whether it’s retail or restaurant, he said. 

“So that allows for more flexibility for change of use,” he said. 

It also makes more of the businesses allowed by right, just getting a business license rather than going through the conditional use permit process, which can be onerous.

Some businesses, like souvenir stores or alcohol-serving businesses, will still need to meet the CUP special findings.

“It will add a little bit more flexibility with some of the other types of businesses in the hopes of encouraging new, more interesting businesses,” he said. 

It was a lengthy process to get it through the city and the CCC, but it’s now certified, adopted and published, Wiener said. They will start some public outreach soon to help make community aware. 

City department head on the latest Broadway downtown

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city recently updated its Downtown Specific Plan

They also plan to hire a consultant that will help curate some of the businesses they might want to bring into town, Wiener said. 

“If we want to create a market for wine tasting or other types of uses,” he said.

Later in the evening on Wednesday, the Planning Commission approved a wine tasting room with painting and crafts for small groups at a location outside the DSP, at 662 South Coast Highway.

“I think it’s important that we, the city, be flexible and be able to adapt because that’s the nature of the market right now,” Wiener said. 

Online shopping is replacing brick and mortar retail stores, but people still visit a business not just to buy things, but for an experience, he said. 

“Through these updated regulations we’ve kind of let go of reins a little bit, but not completely,” he said. “Hopefully it serves some investment in the downtown and some new and interesting businesses.”

The unique Laguna Beach quality that is often referenced is a combination of a lot of things, Wiener said during the Q&A portion of the meeting, including the location, environment, the scale of buildings and the way the properties have been developed organically (not tract developments).

“We always have to keep sight of that with any of these policy changes and make sure that if we do allow for housing [for example], that it fits in within the context of the city, that we’re not radically changing the character,” he said. “I think things are going to change over time, we have to expect that, but it should be done in a sensitive way.”

He mentioned the mass, height and bulk ordinance (that was approved by the Planning Commission later in the evening on Wednesday) as a way to help guide development. 

There are safeguards that can make it tough for some projects, but there’s not much that protects the city against large-scale developments out of character with the town, he said. The proposed ordinance finds the right balance to allow for site development and improvements, but also respects the character of the community. 

It’s expected to go before the council in July.

Wiener also talked about the city’s efforts on helping the parking problem. A subcommittee was recently formed and is studying the issue. A Parking Master Plan is in the works right now, he added, and that will assess the needs throughout the city. That will direct the strategies the city ultimately implements. 

“We already do a lot when it comes to parking, compared to most cities, or at least with parking management,” Wiener said mentioning the trolley, dynamic meter pricing and shared parking arrangements. “So there’s quite a bit that we do that’s innovative, but the fact still remains that there is just not a lot of parking supply in the city, there’s not a lot of on-site parking, and you end up getting spillover into the residential neighborhoods.”

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Short, but important council agenda includes election items, budget, balloon ban request

By SARA HALL

City Council has a short, but important agenda next week. 

At the Tuesday (June 21) meeting, council will consider: Several administrative election-related items, the fiscal year 2022-23 budget; and a councilmember request banning the sale and use of lighter than air balloons.

During regular business, council will consider adopting several administrative election-related items

The action will combine the municipal election with the statewide election, places three voter-initiated ballot measures on the ballot and adopts regulations for: Candidates’ statements, submit, set priorities for ballot measure arguments, direct an impartial analysis by the city attorney and provide rebuttal arguments.

Voters will elect three members of the City Council, each for the full term of four years. The candidate statement is not to exceed 200 words.

Several measures will also be on the ballot for voter consideration. 

The Laguna Residents First PAC’s initiative, titled “An ordinance creating an overlay zoning district and requiring voter approval of major development projects,” seeks to create an overlay zone that covers all property in the city located within 750 feet of the centerline of either Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon, which effectively encompasses 51% of all parcels in the city.

Council unanimously agreed on February 15 to send the measure, unaltered, to the ballot for voters to decide.

On May 10, council unanimously sent two more measures to the November ballot: “An Ordinance Amending the Laguna Beach Municipal Code to Create a Minimum Wage and Workplace Standards and Protections for Hotel Employees” and “An Ordinance Creating a Hotel Development Overlay Zoning District and Requiring Voter Approval of Hotel Development Projects.”

At this time, one more voter-initiated measure is undergoing signature verification by the Registrar of Voters. If it qualifies, the item will be before council at their July 12 meeting. 

Following council direction, staff returned on April 12 with land use and parking provisions to be considered for development of a future ordinance and/or an alternative ballot measure. Council voted 3-1-1, with Councilmember Toni Iseman dissenting and Weiss abstaining.

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Commission recommends ordinance, potential ballot measure addressing building height, mass and scale

By SARA HALL

The city moved forward this week with a future ordinance and/or possible ballot measure aimed at addressing development height, mass/scale and parking.

The Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday (June 15) to recommend that the City Council adopt the ordinance as staff recommended with some suggested modifications. 

Commissioners approved amendments to the zoning code, Local Coastal Program, and the city municipal code related to building height, mass, bulk and directed the city to prepare a parking master plan.

The item stemmed from the recent ballot initiative tackling the same issues. 

On February 15, City Council unanimously decided to send the proposed initiative from Laguna Residents First, unaltered, to the voters on the November ballot. 

During a second, separate motion a 4-1 majority of councilmembers (Councilmember George Weiss dissented) supported directing city staff to study possible ballot measure alternatives to address some of the concerns the initiative raises. The action also directed staff to return with zoning provisions addressing height, mass, scale/bulk and parking.

Staff returned to council on April 12 with land use and parking provisions to be considered for development of a future ordinance and/or an alternative ballot measure. Council voted 3-1-1, with Councilmember Toni Iseman dissenting and Weiss abstaining.

The provisions are “similar to how the initiative is attempting to address those issues,” explained Community Development Director Marc Wiener.

Staff noted in the report that concerns have been raised in recent years that the current development standards do not protect against block-long development that would be inconsistent with the small-scale character of the city, particularly near the Downtown. 

“We have pretty good regulations that regulate scale, and character and height in the Downtown Specific Plan area,” Wiener said. 

The DSP currently prohibits lot mergers exceeding 5,000 square feet. That keeps projects pretty small, maybe a “little too small,” Wiener said. 

However, there is no limit to the size of lot mergers in the other commercial districts within the city, including along Coast Highway, Wiener explained. So the city could potentially get a proposal for a “block-long development,” he said. They received a similar proposal a few years ago for a site adjacent to the Downtown, he added, although that hasn’t gone through. They don’t get a lot of those applications now, Wiener noted, but they could in the future. 

“Staff felt it was important to draft some regulations that would help protect the area around the Downtown and the rest of the commercial corridors,” he said, “with an effort to try and preserve the character of the city, the uniqueness of it, the small-scale design.”

Commission recommends taco construction

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working on an ordinance and addressing height, mass/scale and parking 

On Wednesday, there was quite a bit of discussion about what the standards should be for development in the nearby “buffer” zone around Downtown.

“The main point of this is that we’ve kept the scale pretty small in the downtown and if we were to not to have this type of limitation you could see a dramatic increase in scale in the adjacent areas,” Wiener said. 

Staff initially recommended a new zoning standard that would restrict the maximum lot size merger to less than 15,000 square feet for any property within 500 feet of the DSP area; and separate design standards for sites 15,000 square feet or larger within other areas of the city to break up the size of developments and help prevent monolithic buildings. 

Ultimately, planning commissioners modified the suggestion to provide council with two options: 1) Maintain the originally proposed 500-foot buffer around the Downtown Specific Plan area prohibiting lot mergers 15,000 square feet and greater; or 2) Remove the 500-foot buffer and require that the “large project” design standards apply to developments 10,000 square feet or greater throughout the city.

“It doesn’t prohibit lot mergers larger than that, somebody could potentially develop the entire block if they came in and acquired the property,” Wiener said. 

Staff also suggested that the following standards apply to developments on sites that are 15,000 square feet or larger:

–Buildings must be designed to appear from the street frontage as two or more distinctly different developments to avoid the appearance of a single large project. 

–A conceptual review hearing with the Planning Commission is required prior to full application submittal.

–Improvements are required to the public right-of-way along all street frontages per Planning Commission approval, which may include but is not limited to street trees, decorative paving and pedestrian-level lighting. 

–New development and major remodels must incorporate environmental sustainability features intended to optimize energy use, protect, and conserve water, enhance indoor environmental quality, and optimize building operation and maintenance practices. 

City staff initially recommended that the maximum length of any individual building street frontage shall be 150 feet. The recommendation was changed to 100 feet just before it was presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday. 

“One of the reasons this is here is to create a sense of confidence in the public that large, massive buildings are not going to occur,” said Commissioner Steve Kellenberg and the 100-foot limit does a better job at accomplishing that.

Commission Chair Steve Goldman didn’t agree with the staff suggestion of reducing the length to 100 feet, but that 150 feet was at the high end of the acceptable range. He mentioned a few examples of a frontage more than 100 feet that was still in character with the town and didn’t look like “too much.”

“I think we’re somewhere in between,” Goldman said. “I’d rather have more lenient zoning because that’s hard and fast – difficult to get variances, difficult to change that – and rely on control through Planning Commission, Design Review, etc.”

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Council moves forward with Promenade on Forest program plan

By SARA HALL

City Council unanimously approved the Promenade on Forest Program Plan this week, which will act as a guide to develop permanent design concepts for future consideration.

Council members voted 5-0 on Tuesday (June 7) to move forward with the preliminary plan, which outlines the process for designing the space, determining programming and uses, and gathering public input.

Most of Tuesday’s discussion revolved around designing the area as a uniquely Laguna gathering space, the importance of getting feedback from the community, and the timing of the first public workshop (which a majority of council ultimately agreed should be after Labor Day).

This is a preliminary plan and there will be plenty of opportunities for input during the public meetings, said Mayor Sue Kempf. There has been a lot of support and interest in the Promenade, and most of it is favorable, she noted, so this is the right direction to be heading.

It shouldn’t be “vanilla” or bland, she said, echoing some public comments. It needs to be unique as Laguna Beach. 

“I want to see us build a Promenade that’s beautiful and we can be proud of,” Kempf said. “We have a beautiful town and we should have nice things here.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have embraced the Promenade with strong support, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen agreed. 

“I think it’s pretty clear we’re on the path for a permanent Promenade and we ought to look at the options,” he said. 

These are good next steps, he added.

They need to ensure robust input from community, Whalen said, that will help the city develop the best plan possible for the Promenade. A variety of options and ideas might come out of the process, he added. 

The document will be heavily referenced in the upcoming outreach, noted Capital Program Manager Tom Perez. 

“The program plan is not intended to be a design document,” Perez emphasized, it “will help us to further the design through the concept phase.”

Tuesday’s action is limited to preliminary design direction, he emphasized. It’s not authorization to proceed with the project, he said, it’s just providing direction.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity where we no longer have to just maintain 20 feet of nothing down the middle of the street,” Perez said. “We’re looking at how do we really take this area and maximize the potential, and whether that shifts things around – moves things, I’ll be looking over at RRM (Design Firm) to really bring that to life in their concept plan.”

Council moves forward promenade entrance

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working to make the Forest Avenue Promenade permanent

On May 18, 2021, council approved a $376,990 contract to RRM Design Firm for preliminary engineering and entitlements to study possibly making the Forest Avenue Promenade permanent. At the time, the item passed unanimously and there was general support for the idea, but not without a number of concerns raised by several council members and public speakers. 

The proposed scope of work required RRM to prepare a programming plan, which will develop a high-level space plan, including parameters such as the amount of dining space, space dedicated to restaurants, retail, gathering areas, and for performances. 

RRM was also tasked with preparing two concept plan alternatives for a permanent pedestrian Promenade. The first will include a minimal design alternative that would convert the existing roadway on lower Forest Avenue with minimal improvements. The second will include comprehensive hardscape and landscape replacements and improvements, including removal of curb and gutters, permanent lighting, shade and seating fixtures, and new pavement.

Staff confirmed at the time that the scope of work for RRM would also include three community meetings and various stakeholder interviews.

Outreach has now occurred with business owners along Forest Avenue, public safety personnel, maintenance staff, and public officials to identify key program elements to be incorporated into the program plan, Perez explained. Feedback from the stakeholders included both positive and negative comments. 

They tried to grab everybody’s comments and incorporate them into the document, said Brian Hannegan, project manager for RRM.

“It really is a way to help us think about things ahead and we definitely want to hear from the public, that’s our next really big step is to get their input about it,” he said. 

Perez shared a word cloud featuring the comments from stakeholders, some of the most prominent words in the graphic were: Lighting, trash cans, decks, art, planters, trees, seating, storage, and maintenance.

People want it to be a top-notch gathering space for family and friends, or a nice spot to meet with a client, Perez noted. The focus on the Promenade as a gathering space was an important and repeated comment, he emphasized throughout Tuesday’s presentation. The design should also create an inviting destination for both residents and visitors and seating should be incorporated throughout. 

“Looking at the site character, it was the overarching theme, we heard people want the Promenade to retain the Laguna Beach charm and that eclectic feel using high-end finishes,” he said. 

Suggestions included enhanced pavement materials and art integrated into the design.

Council moves forward promenade outdoor dining

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Initial stakeholder feedback emphasized that the Promenade shouldn’t feel like an outdoor food court

Feedback also emphasized that it shouldn’t feel like an outdoor food court. The appearance of the dining decks should look attractive, Perez said. 

Right now, it looks like a food court with corrals, commented Councilmember George Weiss. It needs to be balanced so the dining areas are available, but managed so they aren’t overwhelming the overall design, he explained.

“Everybody likes outdoor dining, I do too, but I want it balanced with the other uses,” Weiss said. 

Comments gathered from the stakeholder feedback also included support for renting the space reserved for restaurants at a fair market rate, Perez noted, and should be limited to 500 square feet per restaurant.

Several respondents also wanted to see the roadway completely removed, accessibility to restrooms, improved lighting, and placement of trees. There were mixed feelings about public performances on the Promenade, but most agreed that they should occur at different areas rather than one fixed location.

The development of the concept plans will include public outreach with the community to collaborate on thoughts and inspiration that will help guide the design and vision forward, staff noted.

The next step will be the first community meeting, which staff suggested to be held in late July or early August. There was some discussion about the timing, as many residents are away on vacation during the summer. Ultimately, most council members agreed to direct staff to host the first meeting after Labor Day.

Kempf suggested starting the outreach meetings in September, since so many residents travel during the summer. 

“It’s an imperfect world we’re living in, not everybody is going to be available,” Kempf said. “Let’s just try to make our best effort to get it in when we’re not in the holidays and after school starts.”

There will criticisms about any date they select, noted Councilmember Peter Blake. In September, people will complain about interfering with the school calendar. In November, there will be conflicts with the holiday season, he said.

“I don’t want to wait,” Blake said. “Let’s get this thing started.”

The first community meeting could happen in August or September, Hannegan said, but the further into fall they go they have to “hopscotch around holidays.”

Although, even if the second meeting is after the holidays it would still work out, Hannegan confirmed. That would give them time to work on the concepts and input ideas from the first community meeting without feeling rushed, he said.

“We really want to hear from them,” Hannegan said. “We want to hear about what they think about the different options and really tune in into it, that’s what’s going to make this successful.”

Council moves forward promenade and people

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council members noted that many people have embraced the Promenade since the pandemic

There was also some concern during public comment about dismissing community input and not considering residents as stakeholders. It’s important that everyone is represented, noted Jacob Cherub. More input means a better project, he said. 

But Blake cautioned staff on what might be a “tsunami” of unrealistic comments and urged the experts to do what they do best by making the Promenade unique and well planned.

“Don’t let anybody get in the way of doing something really special,” he said. 

The project is at a very early stage of the process, but a lot of hard work has already been put into this, noted resident and Planning Commission Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Public input is an important part of the process, but a professional design firm can create an environment that understands Laguna and maintains the charm, while doing something spectacular, Dubin said. 

“I believe, absolutely, in public input on this project, but there are a lot of times when design by committee can tend to water things down a little bit too much,” Dubin cautioned. 

The project needs to really distinctive for the community and maintain the charm and character of Lower Forest, he noted.

“I think we need to do something that’s extremely special, that is not a ‘beige’ project that looks like it could be in any pre-planned town,” Dubin said. “I think it’s important that we have something that really blows people away when they come and enjoy that.” 

It requires a lot of thought and creativity, he noted, and Laguna is a creative community with a lot of knowledgeable residents that think outside the box. The Promenade deserves the attention to detail that will make it an interesting place for both residents and visitors, he added. 

“We owe it to ourselves and the community to really drill down on this,” Dubin said. “If it goes forward, it’s going to be a permanent part of our identity.”

Resident Greg O’Loughlin echoed Dubin’s concern about making it bland. Other cities have similar promenades, he noted, so Laguna Beach’s should be special. He also suggested incorporating “Forest” into the name and keeping the trees prominent. As a name, Promenade is generic, he noted. 

Kempf agreed with the public comments about possibly incorporating Forest into the name. They just called it “Promenade” to quickly title it when it was first introduced, she recalled, but it could be better. 

“I think it needs a different name,” she said, adding that the name could be worked out during the outreach process. 

A few public speakers also encouraged project officials to preserve the trees, which are a part of the character of the area. 

Later in the year, city staff will meet with California Coastal Commission staff for direction, continue working on the concept plan, and host a second community meeting (the meeting could be early 2023). In early to mid-2023, the concept design will be finalized, a third community meeting will be held, and the project will be presented to the Planning Commission and then City Council. By late 2023, the city will work on CEQA compliance, submit for a Coastal Development Permit, seek design review approval, and present the final preliminary plan to council.

Information and opportunities for feedback will also be available online, staff confirmed. 


Inside City Hall

Dear Laguna Beach Community,

It’s hard to believe that it is already June, and the summer season is upon us! Our city services are essential to people living in or visiting Laguna Beach, and I am pleased to share how our city teams from all departments are prepared for these summertime service levels. Many of these service enhancements are part of the city’s resident-serving “Neighborhood & Environmental Protection Plan,” to mitigate visitor impacts to neighborhoods, enhance city services for residents and add environmental protection programs.

Through the end of September, our Public Works Department will be emptying public trash and recycling cans three times daily, providing four litter picking crews every weekend (Fri.-Sun.), doubling the number of contracted day porters serving the Downtown/Main Beach/Heisler Park areas and doubling our Downtown sidewalk pressure washing program to four nights per week.

inside City Hall Shohreh Dupuis

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis

In addition, Public Works will launch the new Neighborhood Beach Trolley on Friday, June 10. The Beach Trolley will supplement the Laguna Beach Local on-demand service and provide an additional transit option from residential neighborhoods in North Laguna, Top of the World, Bluebird Canyon and Arch Beach Heights. The Beach Trolley will operate from June 10 through August 21, seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., approximately every 45 minutes. The Beach Trolley can be flagged down anywhere along the route in the residential neighborhoods and will have limited stops along Coast Highway. This service is designed to provide neighborhoods with transportation down to the beach during the day with surfboards and other bulky beach gear. 

The Laguna Beach Local On-Demand Summer Hours will start on June 24. The summer hours between June 24 and September 5 are Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., and Sunday from 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. In addition, Festival Season Trolleys will begin on Friday, June 24 including the Summer Breeze new service on Fridays from 4-11:30 p.m. Recreation classes are in full swing and summer camps will start on Monday, June 13.

Our Police Department is ready for the summer and patrol officers will remain vigilant and address quality of life concerns throughout the season, with a multifaceted approach including ATV patrols of our city beaches in the evening and nighttime hours. Police officers on bicycle teams will patrol the Downtown area and the beaches and parks, and traffic aides will provide traffic control on Forest Avenue on the weekends from 12-7 p.m. Two new Police Department Park Rangers are in training and additional Park Rangers will be hired over the next few months. 

Currently 100% of our fleet of Fire engines and vehicles are operational and our Laguna Beach Fire Department is ready to respond if needed. Next week, we begin our orientation academy for our 19 new Ambulance Operators and finalize our fleet of three new city ambulances as part of the city’s new in-house ambulance program. We begin providing ambulance transport services on July 1 and are continuing to train on our EMT and Paramedic skills, to ensure the highest quality of care is provided to our community and visitors. 

The Marine Safety Department is preparing for summer operations and all Lifeguard Tower positions will be staffed beginning Saturday, June 11. Tower lifeguards and lifeguard rescue units have extended patrol hours to accommodate beach usage in high-impact locations.

Lifeguard staff looks forward to providing ocean and aquatic rescue, emergency medical response, accident prevention, protection of marine resources and ordinance enforcement to keep the public safe. The Junior Lifeguard Program will begin Monday, June 13. There are very few spots open, but if you are interested in registering, go to our website at https://Lagunabeachcity.net for more information.

Lastly, I hope you will join the community, our City Council, and city staff as we celebrate the city’s 95th birthday on Wednesday, June 29 at the Cobblestone area at Main Beach Park from 4-6 p.m. We will have live music, an ice-cream social, and some commemorative 95th birthday gear for you as we celebrate our city’s heritage and history, and use this as a warmup for our Centennial celebration that will happen in just five years. I hope to see you all there on June 29 and wish you a safe start to another fantastic Laguna Beach summer!

In Community Spirit, 

Shohreh Dupuis, City Manager 

City of Laguna Beach


Council waits to appraise, possibly sell Ti Amo property only if alternate site for potential South Laguna fire station found

By SARA HALL

A councilmember request turned into a heated discussion this week to consider selling the former Ti Amo restaurant property, recently purchased by the city for public use, including a possible fire station in South Laguna.

Councilmember Toni Iseman requested on Tuesday (June 7) that the council agendize a future item to consider selling the property at 31727 Coast Highway. 

The revenue from the sale could be used for a number of projects needed in South Laguna, she noted.

“Although our budget is rich with money this a very specific amount of money and it would be great to have that on the table to move forward,” Iseman said. 

They have to be forward thinking, she added. 

“We don’t know what fire equipment is going to look like in the future,” Iseman said. “This space is too small for today, so I doubt we’re ever going to see it as a fire station.”

She also pointed out that the city purchased the site without an appraisal and suggested that they conduct one now. 

While there was no official vote or action at the meeting this week, there was general consensus on the dais to obtain an appraisal at the appropriate time in the future when the city might be in the position to sell the property.

“We’ve had a focus on wanting a fire station in South Laguna for a long time. We bought this property, maybe it’s not the ideal property, but it’s the only property we have right now,” Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said. “To me, it’s premature to consider selling this.”

If they find an alternate site down the road that works better for a fire station, they can consider selling the Ti Amo property at that time, he commented. They should hold off on an appraisal until then, he added. 

“I think we want to have an appraisal that’s ripe and current,” Whalen said. 

It’s too early to sell it or to appraise it, Mayor Sue Kempf agreed. 

“I don’t think we should do an appraisal now. If we’re going to sell it, let’s do it closer to the time when we’re going to sell it,” she said. “We can get an appraisal and it says it’s worth, I don’t know, $3.1 (million), what does that really mean if we’re not going to sell it right now anyway?”

Council waits to appraise Ti Amo

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city recently purchased the property at 31727 Pacific Coast Highway, previously occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

Last year, in a split 3-2 vote on June 15, council authorized an agreement with Rincon Consultants Inc. in the amount of $89,199 to provide consulting services for the preparation of an initial study for the acquisition of 31727 Coast Highway and for a possible Mitigated Negative Declaration, if determined to be appropriate. Councilmembers Iseman and George Weiss dissented.

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Local residents appointed to city sustainability, audit review committees

By SARA HALL

City Council conducted a special meeting this week to interview and appoint several residents to local city committees.

Council interviewed two applicants (a third wasn’t in attendance at the meeting) and appointed one as a full member and a second as an alternate to the Environmental Sustainability Committee for a two-year term effective immediately, through March 31, 2024.

The panel is tasked with researching, reviewing and advising the council on items related to protecting the environment and improving the community’s future sustainability. Members typically work in subcommittees to research issues and policies and prepare recommendations for the larger committee to submit to council. 

At the February 8 interviews and appointments meeting, council reappointed two incumbents. At the time, the only other applicant to the environmental group also applied to the Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee, where he was ultimately appointed. This left one potential seat vacant, although there was discussion about changing the size of the committee. 

The one open seat received three applications this time around: Steve Chadima, Christopher Davis and Charlie Zender.

Ultimately, council unanimously appointed Chadima to the open seat and selected Zender as the alternate. 

“I think we have two extremely qualified applicants here so it would be great to have both of their expertise,” said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen. 

Chadima, a 38-year resident of Laguna Beach, worked for more than 20 years in sustainability, renewable energy, and zero-carbon technologies, including public policy and advocacy. He serves on the Global Leadership Council of the World Resources Institute, an international environmental group, and is a board member of Wildfire Alliance, where he works to mitigate the impacts of climate-induced droughts.

He’s also on the city’s Community Choice Energy Working Group, which advised council on clean energy options. They’re making good progress, he noted. 

With extra time on his hands now that he’s retired, Chadima thought his experience could help the committee.

“There’s kind of a unique opportunity that’s presenting itself in the next couple of years as the Climate Action Plan is revamped with a consultant,” he said. “I think that being able to work with the consultant as a community member can get that kind of input into the process before the final results are delivered, so that whatever the consultant does come up with can be more easily adopted by the community at large.”

Answering a council question, Chadima confirmed he’s previously worked with consultants. 

Councilmember George Weiss, who is the council liaison for the committee and also sits on the CCE working group, said Chadima has done a great job and is a valuable part of the group. He’s thoughtful and considerate of the issues, Weiss said, and he “really does his homework.”

Zender, a professor of earth system science at University of California, Irvine, has lived in Orange County for 23 years, including six in Laguna Beach. 

He’s conducted climate outreach and education to K-12 schools, Long Beach Aquarium and Crystal Cove State Park. He was also previously part of the California Climate Change Advisory Committee. Zender also currently runs a network of sensors near the Salton Sea that monitors particulate matter air quality.

Zender explained his outreach has focused on the causes and effects of climate change at the regional, state and national levels. 

“My interest in this committee is in really thinking globally and acting locally,” he said. 

He noted that his interest was piqued after he recently read a book about the Laguna Beach Greenbelt and how it was recognized as a Historic American Landscape by the National Park Service due to the efforts of community members who devoted time and energy to the project.

“As a recreational enthusiast who lives in the city – both a swimmer and a runner – I’m very familiar with the benefits that those folks have left to the rest of us, and I would love to contribute my expertise and that of my network of colleagues at UC Irvine to any issues that arise on the Environmental Sustainability Committee,” Zender said. 

local residents appointed city hall

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City council appointed local residents to the Environmental Sustainability Committee and Audit Review Committee this week

At the same meeting, council also interviewed two applicants (a third withdrew his application) and appointed them to the Citizens’ Audit Review Committee for two-year terms, beginning July 1 and serving through June 30, 2024.

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Council agenda includes Promenade, Parking Master Plan update, councilmember request to sell Ti Amo property, committee appointments

By SARA HALL

Several noteworthy items are on the agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting. 

On the consent calendar for the Tuesday, June 7 meeting, council will consider: Promenade on Forest Program Plan; an update from the Parking Master Plan Subcommittee; consider cobblestone repair and using the Main Beach area for city’s 95th anniversary event; hear a councilmember request to consider selling the recently acquired Ti Amo property in South Laguna and make several appointments to city committees.

During regular business, council will consider approving the Promenade on Forest Program Plan to act as a guide to develop two distinct concept plans for future consideration.

On May 18, 2021, council approved a $376,990 contract to the RRM Design Firm for preliminary engineering and entitlements to study possibly making the Forest Avenue Promenade permanent. At the time, the item passed unanimously and there was general support for the idea, but not without a number of concerns raised by several councilmembers and public speakers. 

The proposed scope of work required RRM to prepare a programming plan, which will develop a high-level space plan, including parameters such as the amount of dining space, space dedicated to restaurants, retail, gathering areas and for performances. 

RRM was also tasked with preparing two concept plan alternatives for a permanent pedestrian promenade. The first will include a minimal design alternative that would convert the existing roadway on lower Forest Avenue with minimal improvements. The second will include comprehensive hardscape and landscape replacements and improvements, including removal of curb and gutters, permanent lighting, shade and seating fixtures and new pavement.

Staff confirmed at the time that the scope of work for RRM would also include three community meetings and various stakeholder interviews.

Council agenda includes promenade

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Forest Avenue Promenade

Outreach with business owners along Forest Avenue, public safety personnel, maintenance staff, and public officials was conducted to identify key program elements to be incorporated into the program plan, according to the staff report. Feedback from the stakeholders included both positive and negative comments, staff reported. 

“Stakeholders felt strongly that the promenade should have a timeless design with high-end and elegant features that capture and preserve the unique culture of Laguna Beach,” the staff report reads. 

The design should also crate an inviting destination for both residents and visitors. 

Feedback also emphasized that it shouldn’t feel like an outdoor food court.

“While stakeholders understood that outdoor dining is a component of the Promenade, the majority requested that restaurant seating be limited, and that open seating should be incorporated throughout the Promenade,” the report reads.

Comments also included support for renting the space reserved for restaurants at a fair market rate and should be limited to 500 square feet per restaurant.

There were mixed feelings about public performances on the Promenade, but most agreed that they should occur at different areas rather than one fixed location.

Information from the program plan will be the basis of design for the development of the two permanent Promenade concept plan options. 

“The development of the concept plans will include comprehensive public outreach with the entire community to collaborate on thoughts and inspiration that will help guide the design and vision forward,” the staff report reads.

Council agenda includes parking

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Cars bumper to bumper in Laguna Beach

The last item under regular business is a Parking Master Plan Subcommittee update.

The subcommittee, comprised of Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, have been meeting monthly since the beginning of the year to assess the city’s parking needs and study solutions. They have held a public listening session, met with several transportation firms to refine the effort’s approach and private discussions with property owners about possibly leasing parking lots to the city.

As part of the effort, a purchase order was issued to Fehr & Peers, a transportation planning and engineering firm, to assist the subcommittee with the technical tasks for the Parking Master Plan. The plan will start with a parking needs assessment to quantify the existing parking demand in four key districts (North Laguna, Downtown, the HIP District and South Laguna). 

The firm will also help with parking infrastructure recommendations, financing models, possible changes to relevant zoning code regulations and suggestions to improve the city’s strategies to manage high public parking demand.

Fehr & Peers will complete the draft plan by September. It will then be presented to council for consideration and to discuss strategies. 

On the consent calendar, council will consider approving the use of the Main Beach cobblestone area with a stage for the city’s 95th anniversary event on June 29, including use of amplified sound and the bagging of five parking meters for unloading of equipment with no fees applied.

At the event, councilmembers will talk about the city’s history and accomplishments, local bands will perform and giveaway items will be distributed. The event will also be live-streamed on the city’s social media.

A budget up to $15,000 from non-departmental expenditures under administrative services, contingency/unplanned events, will be used for the celebration.

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