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Protect our village without the proposed ballot initiative

You may have been approached to sign a petition favoring a public ballot for some future developments in Laguna. Since some people may sign based on sound bites rather than diving into the details, those of us opposed to this process yet in agreement with several of its concerns thought it may be helpful to share some thoughts.   

We respect the intent of LRF (Laguna Residents First) drafters. In fact, we agree with some of their intended outcomes. No projects over 36 feet with no exceptions. Sign us up! No block long, monolithic, high-density developments that are in conflict with the “village feel” and scale of Laguna. Sign us up! 

However, several of LRF criteria go much too far. Here are just a few:

–Small 1,500-square-foot retail stores converting to a grocery or restaurant with daily trip increases of 200 cars demand a public vote. Think about it. A public vote after years of an expensive City approval process. Small businesses then need to spend $100,000+ on ballot fees and promotion with no clue of how the public will vote. 

–Projects greater than nine apartments. Would we ever add any apartments of over nine units if a public vote is required? 

–Combining lots totaling 7,501 square feet. Lots that would comprise a new 7,501-square-foot lot are considered sub-standard so why not enable two substandard lots to be combined without the time, expense and risk of a public vote. 

–Major improvements of 22,000 square feet or greater. The Old Pottery Place wouldn’t exist today. One might say, it’s a great project and voters would have approved, but there was opposition throughout the City process. Had it required a public vote after a three-year City process and activists’ continuing negative disinformation, we couldn’t have pursued it.

No investor will devote time or money to undertake risks associated with a public ballot. Yet, the aging condition of our business neighborhoods would continue to deteriorate and the innovation and creativity that formed today’s Laguna will disappear. Investment will be stifled. 

It’s not simply the additional time and money that’s a problem. It’s that ballot results are a direct reflection of slick advertising, expensive and often misleading promotions and slogans, versus the merits of a proposal. Reflect on how we are inundated with promotions for propositions every election cycle. Is this how Laguna wants land use decisions? This in effect is what the LRF ballot initiative would create. Instead, we suggest the following:

First, don’t sign the LRF initiative if you don’t understand what’s in it. There have been numerous reports of some gathering signatures either not knowing what’s in it or unfortunately making non-valid claims. 

Second, City staff has been directed by the Council to determine if and if so, how the City’s process for considering development can be strengthened. You might watch for this report before deciding to sign anything. 

Third, beyond what the staff report proposes, one can envision an alternative City ballot initiative that doesn’t include the weaknesses of LRF and is focused specifically on what we want to achieve. 

On behalf of those opposing the LRF proposal, we hope you find this helpful.

Joe Hanauer

Laguna Beach