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Laguna Beach

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Ballot initiative encompasses too much

There is a lot to digest within the Laguna Residents First (LRF) purposed ballot initiative and its impacts are still unclear. I have researched this initiative, others like it and have sought advice from professionals to understand it further. It’s very complex in nature and I still have questions, as I’m sure others in the community do.

As proposed, the Initiative’s “Beautiful Laguna” Overlay Zone could impact more than 7,000 parcels along Coast Highway and the Canyon Road (50 percent+). This sparks the questions – Does this zone encompass infrastructure projects, parking structures, city buildings, fire stations, schools, condo buildings, apartment buildings, affordable housing projects and commercial buildings? What specifically is enhancing Laguna Beach’s beautification or is it simply tightening the reigns on any development? How many projects would have been affected in this scope over the last few years? 5, 10 or 20+ projects? 

“Building height” has been used as a major point of discussion within the initiative. I and most residents can agree that the 36’ mark and other code heights have been a staple of the building code that has helped keep Laguna’s character and charm. In my dealings with the height code, I found our municipal code to have some elements of code collision that do need additional clarity. The proposed initiative does attempt to offer clearer definitions to the finished floor, natural grade and finished roof height as starting points for the 36’. However, it doesn’t address many code sections, and, unfortunately, the proposed initiative would not create a situation to assure a rational 36’ height restriction. 

If this Initiative passes it will have a similar effect to Dana Point’s Measure H leaving language left up to staff and lawyers to interpret. Which is why, the typical process for amendments would include staff analysis and property owners and community comments. As proposed, the Initiative only takes the sole perspective of the leaders of the Political Action Committee – Laguna Residents First, excluding all others from the process of helping craft a workable document. 

I find this proposal to be too impactful, casting a net that is too large and with too many unintended consequences. The Initiative includes language and definitions for “Major Remodel,” “Cumulative Effect” and “Average Daily Trips” which contrast and complicate the development standards and needs further professional evaluation. The definitions stated within the Initiative were clearly copied from our neighboring cities such as Dana Point (Measure H) and Costa Mesa (Measure Y). Those measures have acted as a moratorium, stopping potential projects from being proposed and forcing many sites to be left empty and unchanged. 

In conclusion, I am still looking for more reasonable information on the impacts of this Initiative, which is why I will be tuning into the October 5th City Council Meeting (Agenda Item 16) to hear more of the city’s analysis of this Initiative.

Louis Weil

Laguna Beach

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Concerns about Ordinance for Defensible Space…remember, green doesn’t burn

(Letter addressed to Laguna Beach Mayor and City Council)

I’m writing you today to ask that you not vote in the adoption of the Ordinance for Defensible Space to the City’s Fire Codes on October 5, 2021. 

I wasn’t able to call in during the last council meeting to ask if a consideration for properties that live on hillsides and steep slopes has been considered? I’ve been in Laguna Beach for 61 years and for years we’ve planted our slopes and steep hillsides with trees, shrubs, and ground covers to keep the topsoil and hillsides from sliding into the yards of our neighbors or into the streets where it will end up in the ocean. The roots of trees are needed to hold deep down under the hillside, shrubs roots are needed to hold topsoil and stop run off, the groundcovers hold the topsoil and stop ponding rains from washing off the mulches and topsoil.   

In 2008 when our property required the undergrounding to be installed it required us to sleeve up the steep hillside. We had to remove and thin the plant material for the crews to be able to work on the steep terrain, and during the 2010 rains a majority of our hillside slid down to the street below, only the area that the undergrounding was installed in stayed due to our crews compacting the soil correctly. The hillside slid due to the fact we removed a lot of the foliage that was protecting it. 

I will warn you if it was the city that required us to remove that foliage we would have sued, and if you force us to remove the important trees, shrubs or groundcover off my hillside and we have a slope failure we won’t hesitate to bring a lawsuit against the city, so please take another look at this ordinance.     

I was here in 1993 and I agree with our fire department that they need to have a defensible way to address fires and as a landscape contractor I feel that all trees and shrubs should be kept clear of debris and dead material not only for fire prevention but for the tree and shrubs health.   

I have also been here when it has flooded many times in Laguna and all of us homeowners who live on slopes and steep hillsides are so grateful for our trees and shrubs during these storms. 

I am sure that during the fire in 1993 even if every house on Mystic Hills had a defensible space as described in this ordinance they still would have burned. I saw that 40-foot wall of fire going up the hill behind City Hall and there is no way anything was going to stop it with the winds blowing as hard as they were. 

When they started the evacuation for Bluebird Canyon, I was hosing down my mother’s home (and) I saw red hot ashes the size of my foot (woman’s size 7) falling onto the wooden deck, trees and shrubs and the ashes went out when they landed on the green trees, even a pine tree, but when the ashes landed on the shade umbrella it burnt holes in it. 

One of my friends is a fireman and during that fire he was sent from his firehouse in San Juan Capistrano to the Malibu Fire and when Laguna became out of control they were sent here and all they could do was line up all the firetrucks along Top of The World Drive to try to stop it. He said most of the guys were speechless and had tears in their eyes as they watched Mystic Hills burn because even with a defensible yard these firefighters couldn’t get close enough to stop that monster fire. 

Please do not vote for this on October 5th but go over this ordinance and consider how this will impact the slopes and steep hillsides and that it isn’t the green foliage that burns but patio furniture, umbrellas, and woodpiles. I feel this is a drastic measure and will have effects on our health as a community because the trees are needed for shade, shrubs and flowers are needed for our mental health; we need beauty all around us to stay calm, it has been proven that landscaping along roadways can calm and slow traffic. 

So, let’s really look at this ordinance and remember green doesn’t burn. Thank you for considering another look at this,

Liza Interlandi Stewart

Laguna Beach

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It’s time to dismantle old oil rigs

(Sunday), October 3, 2021 will go down as the worst oil rig disaster in the history of Orange County! It is being spun as a 144,000-gallon oil spill, but it was a broken pipe from one of the Elly Offshore Oil Rigs off Huntington Beach that was broken. The pipe is being patched.

I lobbied for ocean protection in Washington D.C. and wrote the National Ocean Protection Act in my kitchen and Congress passed it: No new offshore oil rigs off the entire coast of the United States.

Now, with aging offshore oil rigs looming danger off our Orange County Coast, it is time to dismantle these old rigs to stop another disaster. 

Our beautiful coast has now experienced oil on our beaches and birds and crabs and dolphins and fish washing up.

As Past President of Orange County Save Our Shores (SOS) I know the ropes...we have to act in a powerful way NOW! 

Beth Leeds

Laguna Beach

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Word from The White House can’t come soon enough

I’ve had a number of political highs in my life, but none have come close to when I represented four beach cities (San Clemente, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach) and the Orange County Supervisors in the “No on Offshore Oil Drilling” campaign in 1985. 

Back then, the Reagan administration had its sights set on drilling off the California coastline, so when 22 local Republican mayors publicly rebuked the idea here in Orange County, I knew our collective mission to protect the ocean and local beaches for future generations was secure. That is, until this past weekend’s oil spill affecting Huntington Beach, Newport and Laguna. It pains me beyond words to read about the ecological disaster that has killed wildlife and forced beaches to close. 

I was a junior at USC when the massive 1969 oil spill turned Santa Barbara beaches black with tar balls. Its impact was felt for decades. I know Rep. Michelle Steel has sent a letter to President Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County. As far as I am concerned, word from the White House can’t come soon enough.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Vladimir Sokolov

1932 - 2021

Obituary Sokolov with painting

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Submitted photo

Vladimir Sokolov

Vladimir Sokolov, long-time Laguna Beach artist and gallery owner, passed away peacefully of natural causes on September 16, 2021, in Dana Point. He is survived by his two sons, Gregory and Alexander, daughter-in-law Michelle, and two grandsons, Nicholas and Jordan.

Vladimir was born in the former Yugoslavia in 1932, and received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Belgrade. He immigrated to the United States in 1966, where he married his wife Lillian. They moved to Southern California in 1967, where he was employed as a technical illustrator for General Telephone and Electric (GTE), until 1981. He then opened his first art gallery in Laguna Beach, Studio Gallery Six, in the Lumberyard Plaza. He later moved the gallery to South Laguna, and renamed it Vladimir Sokolov Gallery, where it remained open until 2018. 

Vladimir’s artwork was known for its ever-evolving styles, ranging from acrylic paintings to large mixed media collages. He was a regular exhibitor at the annual Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach, and was well known in the local art circles. His intelligence, love for the arts, and his sense of humor will be greatly missed by his friends and family.

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Fr. John Patrick Kearney

April 24, 1954 – August 22, 2021

Obituary John Kearney

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Courtesy of Bishop Brian Delvaux

Fr. John Patrick Kearney

We knew him as Fr. Jack, a priest who served a compassionate God and
the members of two parishes in Southern California, Good Shepherd Church,
in Lakewood and St. Francis by the Sea Cathedral, in Laguna Beach. His parishioners will miss his homilies, punctuated with his unmistakable wit, and his dedication to those who were strengthened and made whole at his monthly celebration of the communal Anointing of the Sick at St. Francis.

He was there, faithfully, for the Sunday Liturgy at both parishes and, each Wednesday evening, for his healing services in Laguna Beach. Only COVID-19 could keep him away, dictating that we not only heal, but also prevent illness. He was committed to battling an illness that would have killed him earlier than his cancer and which took his mother from him, the illness of addiction. Through this ministry of his, he saved lives and provided a profession for so many people who would have succumbed to an illness which robs people of their very souls.

At his ordination to the priesthood, after coming to us rather than abandoning his ministry to the addicted, Bishop Brian Delvaux quoted a scripture that so applied to Jack. “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone of the structure.” As he is sent forth, another was quoted: “Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many. Come share in your Master’s Joy.

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District Attorney says City Council majority violated Brown Act in closed session

I received an email from the Laguna Beach Independent newspaper with the headline “Closed-Session Leaks Violated Brown Act District Attorney says.” This headline is at best misleading and at worse, false. 

The letter the District Attorney’s office sent Councilmember George Weiss actually says, “there is substantial evidence that the City Council Members violated the Brown Act with respect to the public notice of the closed session and/or the scope of the matters considered during the meeting.” 

That the City Council majority closed session was illegally violating the Brown Act.

The letter goes on to say that Councilmember George Weiss “potentially violated the Brown Act by also subsequently disclosing to members of the public confidential information obtained during the same closed session.” 

That leaves open the possibility that he did not violate the Act.

The work “leak” in this context is pejorative while Councilmember Weiss was bravely acting as a whistleblower disclosing to the public the illegal actions of the city council majority. That information was rightfully the publics to know as changes to Hotel Laguna permits should have occurred in an open meeting. 

Only four topics are allowed to be discussed in closed sessions: real estate transactions, labor negotiations, personnel issues and litigation. Litigation was not discussed but an update on the progress being made at the Hotel Laguna, and a vote was held on removing the stop work orders. 

How about the Indy finding out answers to what went on? Afterall, the District Attorney office’s letter includes, “For its part, the City Council waived confidentiality with respect to the June 29, 2021, closed session and openly discussed the proceedings during its August 24, 2021, meeting.” 

One important question to ask the City, for example, was Hotel Laguna litigation discussed at the closed session? The closed session’s agenda noticed discussion of litigation regarding Hotel Laguna, but the City Council majority voted to concur with staffers’ decision to partially withdraw a stop-work order at the historic hotel.

It also might be newsworthy to find out what the city council majority plans to do about getting poor legal advice from our city attorney, Phil Kohn, who has been Laguna Beach City Attorney for something like 39 years. At the August 24, 2021, city council meeting, Mr. Kohn maintained his advice was sound on the closed session and there was no need to “cure” the action by redoing the vote at an open public meeting. However, he noted that his firm Rutan & Tucker gave contrary advice.

Johanna Felder

Laguna Beach

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Questions and answers about Laguna Residents First ballot initiative

I have been gathering signatures for the Laguna Residents First ballot initiative and have received a number of questions.

Wouldn’t we be having frequent elections?

Hopefully not. If projects follow existing ordinances, and impacts are adequately mitigated, the Ballot Initiative would not be triggered and no vote by the people would be required. 

If the initiative had been enacted five years (ago), only a couple of projects would have triggered a vote by the people, the Dornin Canyon Apartment Building and, perhaps, Coast Inn. 

The fear is that there may be more in the future as Mo Honarkar has proposed a Museum Hotel and a Cleo Hotel built on land by demolishing the existing structures. Hopefully, with the initiative as City law, the city council and developers will moderate their plans realizing that they will need a majority support of the voters.

Don’t existing ordinances specifying maximum height of buildings adequately protect us?

No, there is an overall 36-foot height limit ordinance, however, exemptions can be granted by a majority of the City Council. Note: That existing law requires a much lower height, 12-foot in many very visible parts of downtown, including most property near the beach. 

Thirty six-foot high buildings on lower Forest Avenue and Ocean Avenue would transform the Laguna Beach look into Huntington Beach or what Dana Point is becoming. After all, it was the duly elected Laguna Beach City Council that pushed for and approved the Surf & Sand hotel expansion years ago. How many other Surf & Sand exceptions do you want in Laguna? 

The ballot initiative simply preserves the entire height restrictions that are currently in place; everything from the overall 36-foot height limits including the specified lower limits in place. Ballot Initiative provisions such as this can only be changed by a vote of the residents, not the whims of the current City Council. So, we would be better protected.

Isn’t this one more obstacle to prevent business owners from repairing and improving their buildings?

No. The initiative does not impact businesses in town that desire to repair or refurbish their existing buildings. 

Learn about the ballot initiative, detail information is online at, including Frequently Asked Questions and a Summary of the Ballot Initiative.

Gene Felder

Laguna Beach

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Please get vaccinated

A year ago this week, Stu News ran my letter entitled, “200,000 COVID-related deaths.” Despite the fact there was no vaccine at the time, people were hopeful the worst would soon be over. Oh, how wrong they were.

Last Saturday, 670,000 white flags were placed on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Each one represented the passing of a mom, dad, brother or sister felled by the virus. Despite the availability of free vaccines now, tens of millions of Americans, many of whom live in Orange County, still refuse to roll up their sleeves.

At last count, COVID is killing nearly 2,000 people a day coast to coast. At this rate, the death toll will reach 750,000 by the end of the year. Clearly, the virus is no joke, so stop treating it like it’s no worse than a cold. Please, please, please get vaccinated. 

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

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Ti Amo not the location for a fire station

“Ti Amo” is Italian for “I Love You.” Maybe that explains the city government’s inexplicable infatuation with Ti Amo as the site for a future fire station. Or park. Or parking lot. Or something. They won’t say for sure what the plan is for the site. Maybe they don’t know. Or maybe they just won’t tell. Some elected officials say we are still considering alternatives, but the staff seems to be going full speed ahead trying to figure out if it can stuff 14,000 sq. ft. of fire station onto a 9,900 sq. ft. site. You know the one about stuffing 10 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound bag. It often ends poorly.

But we now own it. The Ti Amo property. For $2,700,000 of your taxpayer money. In spite of there being no appraisal. In spite of wide-spread neighborhood opposition to the choice. In spite of the fact that a number of better alternatives are available. Including larger unproductive vacant sites where nothing would have to be demolished. And, unlike the Ti Amo site, sites that would meet all the City’s own selection criteria, including the much-preferred attribute of being able to have fire equipment access the Coast Highway from a side street instead of having to pull out and back in directly from the busy Coast Highway. 

But then there’s also the classic, “You always Hurt the One You Love.” Maybe that explains the rush to demolish Ti Amo for a fire station. Or something.

What started as a closed session decision with no public input, led to City Council meetings in June announcing after the fact the decision to buy the site for some yet to be determined use, and another trying to explain its puzzling choice. With no offer by the City government of a neighborhood meeting – like what is suggested as a first step for home remodeling projects – South Laguna Civic Association organized a Zoom meeting for the community asking for community input. The meeting was attended by over 50 participants and city staff. Virtually all comments from the community opposed the selection of the Ti Amo site for use as a fire station, and felt there were better alternatives available. Never-the-less, on September 6, the purchase closed and days later staff was seen, fire engine in tow, wandering the site.

There is widespread support for a new fire station but not at that location. Why isn’t our City government more interested in what the residents want?

John Thomas

South Laguna

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