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Letters to the Editor

Concerns with council skirting the intent of the Brown Act

Village Laguna is deeply concerned about the City Council’s disregard for transparency and public involvement. A low point was reached during the council’s recent consideration of a downtown parking-garage project at the Laguna Presbyterian Church. Prior to the Council meeting, Village Laguna sent the Council two letters commenting on the project, one of focusing on concerns with the Council’s compliance with the Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law for local public agencies. Neither letter reached the City Council until shortly before the meeting began. When we asked what had happened, we were told that our letters had been “blocked” and “scrubbed” in the city’s email system.

After recent events concerning the Council’s Brown Act compliance, we thought that the Council would be more careful with closed sessions. Less than a year ago, the Orange County District Attorney criticized the Council for violating the Brown Act by receiving a closed session briefing from City staff on the Hotel Laguna and by voting in closed session to lift the hotel’s stop-work order. After this episode, and especially after the involvement of the District Attorney’s office, we were surprised to learn that the Council appeared once again to be conducting improper closed-session meetings, this time on the downtown parking-garage project at the Presbyterian Church. 

The Brown Act allows the Council to discuss real estate negotiations in closed session, such as those involving the Church parking-lot project, but the discussion must be very limited. The limitations for real-estate negotiation are common-sense limitations. They allow the Council to discuss price, payment terms, and related matters in closed session, so that, for example, the Council can develop a negotiating strategy around an initial offering price and a maximum price without disclosing a negotiating strategy or the price that the City is willing to pay. Little else, however, can be discussed. The Council cannot in closed session propose a project, develop it, and once the project is almost fully realized, spring it on an unsuspecting public, which is exactly what appears to have happened here. It is distressing that some members of the City Council believe that this course of action is “normal” and “the way councils operate.” It is not normal, and it is not the way councils operate, at least those respecting transparency and avoiding embarrassing enquiries from the district attorney’s office.

Closed-session violations are by their very nature difficult to identify. The violations occur in secret, behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. Here, the proof of the Council’s Brown Act violations for the church parking-lot project comes from the City’s own documents and from statements by City officials. This proof was discussed in detail in one of the letters that Village Laguna sent to the Council. It is unfortunate that the letter was blocked and scrubbed by the city’s email system and that members of the City Council did not have an adequate opportunity to review the letter before the Council meeting. It might have helped cast some light on a deal that appears to have been negotiated in the shadows.

Moving forward, we urge the Council to follow the normal planning process for major public works projects, at least what has been the normal process up to this point. The Council should include the Church parking in the City’s general and specific plans, in this case, the Downtown Specific Plan. The parking garage should be included in projected capital improvement plans and in the appropriate year’s budget. The Council should stop developing the project in closed sessions. By not following the normal planning process and developing the project in closed sessions, the Council has sidestepped public scrutiny and avoided important questions regarding the Church parking lot. This is not the way councils operate, at least not ones that follow the law and that value transparency and public involvement.

Anne Caenn

President, Village Laguna

Residents claim petition is ignored by City

In 2020 the Village Entrance reported cost was $11.3 million or $37,000 per parking space, that option forgoes the Sewer Digester make-over at $16.6 million and $43,000 per space. That’s $1,200/sq. ft. of paving stones supporting your vehicle. The irony is the project funding comes from our capital improvement projects and the coveted city Parking Meter Fund – the city’s slush-bucket for budget red ink. 

The new Village Entrance offers a multi-use pathway extending roughly 750 feet from the Pageant to the Art-a-Fair. Trouble is the pathway was built with no provisions to serve Canyon residents; it serves the motorists who park on those snazzy new paving stones. It would make sense to extend the pathway to Canyon Acres and complete the original intent of the VE architects.

A proposal to extend the pathway was sent to Mayor Pro Tem Whalen March 8 and Public Works on March 10. A resident petition was circulated among Laguna residents to petition our city for the pathway and submitted to the LB City Council and City Clerk with fifty-six signatures on March 15.

To date, the petition failed to appear in any city staff report, in any record of public communications, in any agenda bill. 

Follow-ups occurred with Public Works and the City Clerk in April, with no response from Public Works. A NextDoor poll shows 81% of respondents favored the multi-use pathway, with the City Clerk making note of this in a city staff report on April 21. 

A reminder was sent to the City Manager, City Council and Public Works in May with no reply from anybody. On May 10 in a council meeting, I reminded the council that the petition failed to be recorded. By the May 24 meeting there is no record of the petition in public communications nor any staff reporting. There is also no record of the petition with the Parking and Circulation Committee.

The City argument heard most frequently in opposition is a painted pathway on an existing sidewalk costs too much. A project cost estimate from Caltrans is $222 per foot, an estimate from volunteers is $3.50 per foot. A line item in our city 2010 wish list allocates $40,000,000 in future expenditures for the Village Entrance above and beyond the 10-year Capital Investment forecast. 

State (CTG, Measure M) and Federal (Tiger II, CMAQ) funding agencies offer free money for improvements like pathways, bike lanes, and traffic calming measures. Should Laguna Beach decide to qualify for the grants here are some funding examples:

In the time that passed since the petition was submitted to council, this city proposed the most absurd parking supply solutions ever: to bury a parking structure under the community library, to hide one in a church parking lot, and to PAINT white “edgelines” on Temple Hills Drive to control motorists. The church parking estimate is $400,000 per space. Doesn’t that cost too much?

Les Miklosy

Laguna Beach

Minimal parking enforcement staff presents problems with summer ahead

I was informed by the Laguna Beach police that they have only two parking enforcement employees on staff, and some days only one is working the entire town. They said it’s a City Council issue that remains to be taken care of, but at one time Laguna had four to five parking enforcement employees. 

Two is not enough. Especially not now with the tendency of people to disobey laws and the anything-goes mindset. We are about to go into the summer season and this is completely unacceptable. I know from living on a beach-access street, people do park illegally. With no deterrent, it’s going to be a very problematic summer in Laguna.

Marsha Bianchi

Laguna Beach

We will miss you Chris Duddy

Life often can be cruel, especially when you least expect it. 

My son, Spencer, is getting married this weekend in Carmel Valley. He and his bride, Chelsea, have everything to look forward to over the next 30, 40, or 50 years together.

Spencer also attended Thurston Middle School when Chris Duddy was the assistant principal. Tragically, Chris passed away this week, one month prior to retiring. He was only 57.

It always is a shock when someone you know suddenly dies, especially when that someone is part of the fabric of the community as Chris certainly was.

Laguna has lost a good soul. RIP Chris. You will be missed.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach