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Letters to the Editor

“Voluntary” is the wrong approach for the historic preservation program

I have lived in Laguna since 1971 and share deeply with so many others an appreciation for Laguna’s exceptional village character, rooted in over a century of artistic and preservation-minded decision-making. I urge the Coastal Commission not to abandon this careful approach that has resulted in the city we enjoy today and reject the City of Laguna Beach’s proposed “voluntary” historic preservation program.

In 2018, I was a member of the Council-appointed Historic Preservation Ordinance Task Force, so I am familiar with the arguments of property owners who urged the City to adopt a “voluntary” ordinance. These are the same property-rights arguments that come up against all planning restrictions – whether they are zoning laws, subdivision laws, environmental requirements, pollution prevention, bluff top setbacks, or stream habitat preservation.

To be effective, an ordinance cannot be “voluntary,” requiring “owner consent.” Endorsing this limit on applying the California Environmental Quality Act, and on implementing adopted preservation policies opens a Pandora’s box. How many other laws should also be “voluntary”?

None of us are the last owner our properties will ever have. A decision to demolish a historical resource is irreversible and forever deprives subsequent owners and the public of the opportunity to experience our heritage. 

That was proven true in one example that played out while our hearings were taking place. A property owner had testified that the buildings on his property were not worth saving. He just wanted to sell it as a vacant lot because it would be easier and more profitable. Since the City’s ordinance is still in place he couldn’t demolish without environmental review. He put the property on the market and sold it for the asking price within a couple of days. 

The new owners were thrilled with the opportunity to own a historic Laguna home. They restored it and got the benefits of the Mills Act tax reduction. Without the City’s ordinance, this story would not have had such a happy ending, either for the original owner or for the buyers.

Both my office and my home are Laguna Beach historic register properties and I enjoy every day the experience of living my life within these heritage structures, while they are providing a sense of Laguna’s history to the public within neighborhoods of similar vintage. Let’s not foreclose those experiences for future residents and visitors.

Please direct the City to develop a truly preservation-oriented program.

Ann Christoph

Laguna Beach

Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of the letter Ann Christoph wrote to the Coastal Commission.

Don’t “wreck” our good thing at Vista Aliso apartments

Please don’t wreck Vista Aliso’s 72 senior & handicapped apartment complex on Wesley Drive. Once an elementary school, I believe it was closed in the 1970s.

A group of Lagunatics, including the vicar at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Bob Cornelison, got National Church Residences, a non-profit, to get a loan from HUD to remodel the classroom buildings into living units. They added one- and two-story apartment buildings, with the understanding it would be leased from the school system for 50 years. Vista Aliso apartments opened in 1989. 

Now there is talk the city might add a third floor to the two-story buildings. This is absurd. As seniors grow older in the complex, some want to move to ground level apartments. Where would the tenants live during construction? 

There is parking for 40 cars in the complex which often fill up by mid-day with visitors, in-home service people, visiting nurses, doctors, physical therapists, etc., with some having to look for parking outside the complex. This can be a real challenge during the summer and other times of the year. 

Where does the city plan to add parking for the new apartments when parking is already a problem, to the point that an electric gate now requires people to have a code or call residents from the gate?             

The Laguna Beach City Council should show some respect for the seniors and handicapped who live in the Vista Aliso apartment complex. Please don’t wreck a nice thing.          

Roger Carter

Laguna Beach 


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