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Village Entrance is a huge step forward

Thanks to the City Council for proceeding with the Village Entrance construction project. This is a huge step forward. I and many others are pleased that we will be seeing improvements very soon. Thanks also for rejecting the two fence proposals and asking for additional options. 

It is very disappointing that the Council was unable to go ahead with restoring the Digester Building, but neither of the options that were presented to them were reasonable.

The Council was correct to reject the paint, patch, window repair and stair construction option for $433,174. Despite this high cost the improvements would not have made the building appreciably better and they would not have met the historic restoration standard.

The base bid of $100,723 for painting and patching is an extremely high cost for minimal improvements and no long-term benefit. 

I suggest that the Council remove the $100,723 from the contract and use these funds for the next steps to restore the Digester building:

--Commission a historical report by an architectural historian.

--Hire an architect to prepare complete restoration plans

--Have those plans reviewed by the Heritage Committee and Planning Commission.

--After approval of the plans solicit bids/separate prices on parts of the restoration (for example, exterior restoration, plumbing and electrical, interior restoration and sludge removal.)

These tasks could all be completed by next year and at that time the Council could review the bids and decide which of these items should be accomplished during phase 2 of the Village Entrance project.

This approach would provide for every expenditure going toward making progress on restoring the building, rather than on expensive patch and paint that would have to be redone in the future.

Ann Christoph

Laguna Beach

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CEQA and historical preservation: response to Larry Nokes

I write in response to Larry Nokes’ letter that seeks to outline the City’s obligations regarding the protection of historic resources under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In his letter, Mr. Nokes argued that unless a property is listed on a national, state or “valid and voluntary” local Register, the City is under no obligation to treat it as a historic resource. The thrust of the letter is that Laguna Beach has, and can continue to have, a voluntary local preservation program that requires owner consent. This argument has been made frequently during discussions about the City’s proposed updates to the historic preservation ordinance, but it is incorrect. The City Attorney refutes it in a recent Memo (May 8, 2018), addressed to the Historic Preservation Task Force, which clarifies state laws and regulations regarding historic preservation. While it is true that owners must consent to have their properties listed on the Laguna Register, “properties that are eligible for the City’s Register are identified as historic resources” for purposes of CEQA (my emphasis). Moreover, if the City has reason to believe that a property over fifty years old may be a historic resource, it must be proactive in making that determination. The City Attorney also makes it clear that “the Historic Resource Element [of the City’s General Plan] does not suggest that the process is always voluntary.”

Historic resource evaluations cost money, and Mr. Nokes finds it unfair that owners must pay for them and be subject to possible delays, even if they do not want to put the property on the Register. I agree that it would be advantageous to address these issues, as do staff; among the changes proposed to our historic preservation program, the cost of the evaluation would shift to the City and the approval process would be streamlined. I hope that City Council will acknowledge the validity of the City Attorney’s legal arguments and allow the process of revising the historic preservation ordinance to move forward.

Catherine Jurca

Laguna Beach

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Less emphasis on tree removal/replacement and more on important city issues

I read with interest the letter submitted by a long time member of Village Laguna in which its “accomplishments” were enumerated. I noticed the words Helped With, Supported, etc. used. But 99 percent of these activities were years ago. For many years, the organization ran as a 501(c)3 while using monies raised through its Charm House Tour to support their political favorites. Shortly after I made this public, they became a PAC, but this might have created a negative image so now they are a Mutual Benefit Corporation (nonprofit), which is typically used with condominiums or townhouses and is a good cover for various activities. They will not let go of their notion that our town should be inundated by eucalyptus trees just because early settlers planted a few of them. Good time to note that these were artists not arborists. These are the wrong trees to plant here; we all know that. There have been a lot of backroom deals made over the years because many of their members are on various committees and their “friends” in city hall have held important positions.

This leads me to the city council meeting of August 7, 2018. While discussing Agenda Item 10 – removing/replacing trees located on certain streets – one of their members came to the podium and suggested that the city needed tall and elegant vegetation to create an inviting entrance to our City – she said “we should plant something like Cypress trees and we could look like Tuscany.” I thought it was a brilliant idea – Cypress require almost no trimming, they grow straight up, don’t shed, don’t have the reputation of being torches, we wouldn’t have lollipop heads on them. Not sure about looking like Tuscany – why do some folks here want to look like some town in Europe? What is wrong with Laguna? We are world famous as a tourist destination but like Tuscany and other areas on the Mediterranean coastline (I have to been to many countries in the world with dramatic coastal towns) people do not come to see the trees. Most of these cute towns have narrow streets; there is no room for trees. Normally people do not want to mitigate their views. But here Village Laguna folks don’t care or understand the beauty of our ocean and hillside views.

Given their recent past history of delaying important projects such as making our city safer from fire and other disasters, solving the parking/traffic issues, solving our homeless problem, instead they want to spend money as if there is no tomorrow on more frivolous items. I suggest the reader think very carefully about who from the ten folks running (so far) for city council, they vote for. We may bring back more nepotism and be ruled by a few and in the end destroy our small unique and beautiful city.

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

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Michael Morris Seitz

September 29, 1948 – August 1, 2018

Michael Morris Seitz

Click on photo for a larger image

Michael Morris Seitz, born September 29, 1948 in Karlsruhe, Germany, to the late Hildegard Seitz Gleason and the late Morris Frazier, died at age 69, at his home in Laguna Niguel, California from ALS.

Mike graduated from Fountain Valley High school in 1967. He married the love of his life Debra “Debbie” Pankhard in 1970. Mike graduated from Cal State University at Fullerton. He enlisted in the Army as a social worker/psychologist in 1974. A long-time resident of Laguna Beach, Mike was a devoted family man and enthusiastic entrepreneur. Mike opened and was the chef at Ludwig’s Gasthaus in Laguna Beach and Ludwig’s Black Forrest Café in Mission Viejo. When he moved his family to Lake Oswego, Oregon in 1986, he opened Healthy Pet in Lake Grove that is still owned by his family. It was one of 13 pet stores he had through the years. He was an astute real estate investor, and he also had a great interest in cars, owning 52 throughout his life.  A talented photographer and soccer player, Mike also had a soft spot for people in need. One of his many generous gestures was the gift of a car to a family whose son was gravely ill. In 2003, he moved with his family back to Laguna Beach. Always a student, Mike earned his master’s degree from Argosy University in 2008. But Mike’s true joy was his immediate family.

Mike is survived by his wife, Debbie Seitz; children, Candice Reavis (Dmitri), Michael Seitz (Sommer), Hayley Seitz, Matthew Seitz, Hayden Seitz, and Madeline Seitz; sister, Andrea Maddock. He had six grandchildren.

A private service will be held.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Orange County ALS Association.

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Defending Village Laguna

Village Laguna, a 47-year-old, local and purely volunteer membership organization, is now being targeted by a few potential city council candidates and called a “danger” to our Village. 

I have been a member of Village Laguna since the days they were fighting to have the Treasure Island Park and beaches preserved for residents. At that time, the developers of the Montage wanted to close the beach for the exclusive use of their “Hotel Guests”. Since I lived nearby, I wanted to preserve resident access to Treasure Island’s beautiful coves. Village Laguna was one of many groups who banded together to fight this land grab by out-of-town financial interests looking to maximize their profits by taking our beaches. 

I stayed a member of Village Laguna when I saw that they had a proud history of fighting to preserve, protect and improve those features of our town that makes us so unique. Let’s count the ways Village Laguna has been at the forefront of so many good initiatives:

1. Preventing the building of multi-story hotel towers along our bluff tops and beachfronts through the passage of the heights ordinance.

2. Saving Aliso Creek and Canyon from being channeled and helping restore it to as natural state as possible.

3. Helping to buy the open space that surrounds Laguna and preventing it from development.

4. Helping to create the Laguna Canyon Foundation to manage our open space and to continue to add to it while preserving our amazing green footprint throughout the Village.

5. Helping to preserve the historic character of our village through education and advocacy for proper restoration and reasonable expansion.

6. Preserving the “Resident Serving” business focus in our downtown. (It’s why there are no box stores here or designer boutiques like are found in so many malls and tourist traps across the world.)

7. Supporting the Marine Preserve that is making our beaches safer and healthier.

8. Advocating against the commercialization of our beaches and preventing food stands and beach rentals from establishing a foothold.

9. Supporting quality education in our local schools so they remain vibrant and magnets for our best students.

10. Working to reduce vehicle traffic in our downtown through support for trolleys and peripheral parking during the summer months. 

I hope the reader gets my point. There are so many other critically important initiatives supported by Village Laguna members over the years that this letter could run into multiple pages. 

When I hear false criticisms of Village Laguna, they sound like projection from financially focused groups that want to monetize our infrastructure, degrade our environment, eliminate any opposition to the destruction of our neighborhoods, and wish to have true control over our city government for their financial benefit. 

The reason why so many residents have supported Village Laguna over the years is that they know that Village Laguna members are committed to the task of preserving what Laguna means to all of us. As a membership organization comprised primarily of local citizens who freely donate their time to its work and expect and receive no financial benefits, many Laguna residents consider Village Laguna our “Citizen watchdog” making sure that our civic leaders do what they promise and help pass laws and regulations that protect our wonderful town. 

Laguna would not be the jewel that attracts millions of visitors if our many volunteer civic organizations did not work every day to preserve its best qualities. I am so proud to be a resident of Laguna Beach and a volunteer member of Village Laguna. You are invited to participate in this important work. 

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach

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Nomination of Bill Atkins for Artist in Residence

Every artistic village, community, or city should, by all means, have a representative “Artist in Residence.” An artist thoroughly knowledgeable of the Laguna arts scene and who has represented and enriched Laguna’s artistic vision. The person who best meets these credentials is Bill Atkins. His accolades and honors are too long to list here, but I suggest that the City Council get serious about maintaining. Laguna’s reputation as an artistic sanctuary in the midst of Orange County and select an “Artist in Residence.” 

I furthermore nominate Bill Atkins to serve in that capacity.
Jaci D. Cuddy

Long-time Laguna resident

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Why spend taxpayer’s money to fix-up a decrepit structure?

Residents of Laguna,

On my daily walk, I pass by this iconic view, and I wonder what changes the “Lady” will see in the next few decades. 

Why will the derelict building that used to collect Laguna’s sewage be “Saved”? Crusaders love a crusade! The vocal minority speaks and the city spends. Where’s the common sense? 

The two main functions of city government are Public Safety and prudent spending of taxpayer dollars. Why spend a dollar of taxpayer’s money to “fix-up” a decrepit structure!

Why spend lady

Click on photo for larger image

Submitted photo

If the lady could speak?

Tear it down and build a skateboard park for the children of Laguna Beach. For over three decades, the city has been searching for the “right location,” here it is right under their nose! 

Youth of Laguna unite! Get vocal, no one hears you unless you speak up! This is the perfect location! Think about it! Motivate now before this opportunity passes by. Let’s move forward. 

Three city council seats will be voted for this November, hopefully, some of the candidates will pick up the “cause” for the skateboarders in Laguna. Perhaps the new city council members will listen to the needs of the residents over the wants of the city bureaucrats and usual crusaders.

Pat Galez

Laguna Beach

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High praise for Dianne Russell’s writing and Mary Hurlbut’s photography

I have to give high praise for the writing of Dianne [Russell]. In her article about the babies graduating from the Assistance League’s Early Intervention Program, she captured the essence of this heart-fulfilling program. The dynamic duo of Mary’s photos and Dianne’s discernment as she expertly culled through a massive amount of experiential, emotional and factual information produced this superb article that shines such an accurate light on this profound program that changes a seeming tragedy into a life giving, joyful experience for all of us who are involved. 

Thank you, Dianne for your excellent work! 

Susan McNeal Velasquez

Laguna Beach

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Clarifications offered in response to Barbara Diamond’s article on the historic preservation issue

I wanted to thank Barbara Diamond for the article on the historic preservation issue and offer a couple of clarifications.

“Historic resource” is a defined term in CEQA. In a nutshell, lead agencies (like the City) are required to treat properties listed on a state or national historic register as historic resources. Properties listed on a local register, or on a valid local inventory are “presumed” to be historic resources. However, the presumption of historicity may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

In Laguna, we have a register. There is consensus that houses listed on the register are “presumptive” historic resources. We also have an inventory. However, the inventory is not valid to create a presumption of historicity, because it was not maintained as required by law to make it valid. Therefore, houses listed on the 1981 inventory are not “mandatory” or “presumptive” historic resources.

In Laguna, our General Plan makes it clear that our historic preservation program is voluntary and incentive based. The Mills Act, for example, is a powerful incentive for some owners to voluntarily participate in preservation requirements, in exchange for property tax relief. Other incentives exist as well, such as allowing a non-conforming structure to maintain the benefits of relaxed setbacks or inadequate parking in exchange for an agreement to preserve the old home.

For many owners of older homes, these incentives don’t help. Owners may need more space for their families. A senior citizen may need modifications to make the house more livable. The environmentally conscientious may wish to replace old windows with new, or an old garage door, or new siding, or new roof.

This is where the problem starts. To remodel a home, a homeowner must apply for a property development permit. This application goes to the City’s zoning plan check. If the house is 50 years old, or was listed on the 1981 inventory, the zoning staff requires that the homeowner hire a historic preservation firm to “assess” the house. This can cost $3,500 to $10,000, paid for by the homeowner. If the assessment determines that house does not meet the qualifications of an historic resource, the staff requires the report to be peer reviewed, again at the expense of the homeowner. The issue then goes to the historic preservation committee, which makes a recommendation to the DRB. The DRB makes a decision as to whether the house is an historic resource. That decision may be appealed to the city council. The city then takes a formal action to deem the property an historic resource, even over the objection of the homeowner. These are the so-called “discretionary historic resources” that homeowners are concerned about. 

Laguna has a robust DRB program that considers “neighborhood compatibility,” “neighborhood character,” and the “pattern of development” in remodel applications. A determination that a house is an historic resource subjects the property owner to restoration standards promulgated by the Secretary of the Interior for the “Treatment of Historic Places.” These restorations must also be approved and monitored by – you guessed it - an historic preservation firm at an additional expense to the homeowner.

Historic preservation is laudable, and should be encouraged through the use of incentives, as stated by the General Plan. For those who wish to participate, absolutely go for it. But for owners of homes 50 years old or older, who are not listed on a national, state or valid and voluntary local register, who simply wish to remodel their homes like everybody else, the City should not muscle them into an historic assessment at the homeowner’s expense. They should just go to DRB.

A property that does not fit the definition of “historical resource” as set forth is CEQA does not become an historical resource until the government takes an action to deem it so. If the government wants to force a property down that path, all of the expense and the burden of proof should be borne by the government, or by the party asserting historicity of someone else’s home.

Larry Nokes

Laguna Beach

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Show photo IDs at grocery stores?

President Trump’s assertion that people today need to show photo IDs in order to buy groceries is so 1980s. That’s when most people paid with a check. The usual response from the grocery clerk was to call the store manager before accepting said check. More often than not, that’s when the shopper had to show a driver’s license or some other photo ID. 

Today, the vast majority of customers use a credit or debit card when buying groceries in town at Pavilions, Whole Foods or Ralphs for example. About the only time someone needs to show a photo ID is when he or she is 20-something (OK, maybe 30-something, too) and wants buy alcohol or tobacco. So while the president is hyper-technically correct about one group of shoppers, I don’t believe anyone 40 or older ever has to show a photo ID at the grocery store. 

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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