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Responding to Peter Blake

I read with interest Mr. Blake’s response to my letter on the homeless issue. I was surprised by the tone of his response. In my original letter I made sure to be respectful and recognize Mr. Blake’s expertise as a successful local businessman. Yet, in his response Mr Blake has elected to attack me because of my membership in a local nonprofit civic association! He then goes on ascribe to me views on the homeless issue that I did not state in my original letter nor in any other public venue. 

I do not know nor recall ever meeting Mr. Blake although I have peeked into his gallery a time or two. So, let’s analyse what his response to my respectful letter says about Mr. Blake:

--He is obviously emotionally committed to a purely “palpable” police only response to the homelessness issue. 

--He uses guilt by association to attack those he does not agree with on city issues.

--He uses a crystal ball (or a psychic hotline) to guess what people who do not agree with him are thinking.

--He uses fear of the unknown rather than logic to debate civic issues.

I have been happily involved with a number of civic, environmental and neighbourhood organizations during the 30+ years I have lived in Laguna. The letter I wrote were my own thoughts and not those of any specific organization. To accuse me of such a subterfuge is unfortunate.

So, to earn a seat on the council, one must be fair, honest, open to all residents and respectful of all points of views. Imagine what someone who is none of these things would do on our council. The ideal candidate should be measured for a civic leadership position by the way he treats his fellow citizens and the level of respect he shows different points of views. 

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach


City Council is asking residents to vote for the highest sales tax in OC

City Council [gave] 5/0 approval to place their recommended one percent Sales Tax Increase on the November 2018 Ballot. Despite objection by a clear majority of residents, who spoke to provide arguments against the excessive taxation projected to generate $5.6M that would be used to support a 30-year bond debt to underground utilities.

Compelling concerns, the public deserves a cautionary approach:

--Residents will pay to improve Edison’s aging infrastructure improvement but will not benefit or be provided any shares of privately held company stock.

--Many neighborhoods have already paid their fair share and have elected to underground their own street.

--A city debt liability of a 100 million dollar plus Bond may be the unintended consequence for our ability to borrow for any serious catastrophic emergency, think Bluebird Canyon landslide!

--The 2016 Measure LL raised TOT tax, under the main premise of undergrounding, however, the majority of the funds has been paid to other expenses. 

--It is reckless and irresponsible to expect a vote in favor of a Sales Tax Increase when the scope and total bid cost for undergrounding remains unclear and without any certainty. It is of particular importance to know that the City of Fresno’s recent cost estimate to underground PG&E utility went from 40 million to a [whopping] 396 million, in five short years! In short, residents are being asked to tax themselves, for 25 years, to pay for a project of an undetermined amount. 

--At this time a tax increase is especially concerning since Federal Tax Reform has adversely raised taxes, for the majority of California homeowners who may not fully understand the full tax ramifications, until after they cast [their] vote. It is the unintended consequences of a ballot measure that later causes disappointment, regret and stings the well-intended voter.

--The Affordable Housing Tax Force seeks to maintain economic diversity through balance in our city. We have many seniors on fixed incomes, millennials and a challenged middle class who struggle economically to afford to continue to live in Laguna Beach. Increased taxation by local government is a sure way to move toward gentrification. 

Lorene Laguna

Laguna Beach


City has full discretion on Historical Preservation Ordinance

Please attend the July 31 special council meeting to voice support of a new Historical Preservation Program (HPP) that is based on voluntary participation and private initiative. This meeting will focus on the discretion the City has under state laws to implement a new ordinance. 

These facts show that the City has maximum discretion:

--Messages from senior planners at the CA Office of Historical Preservation have confirmed “there is no legal requirement that a city have a registration program or an inventory”;

--Over 400 CA cities have chosen not to have an HPP. They are not breaking any laws.

A survey of dozens of cities with HPPs show that each is starkly different from the others. This demonstrating that each City freely exercised their discretion to design an HPP responsive to
wishes of residents;

--Neither CEQA nor the Coastal Act mandate a City have an HP ordinance.

Lagunans do not want to be forced onto a registry, inventory or survey without their consent. CEQA exempts home building permits unless the home is on the National or CA Registry or on a local registry. The existence of subjective “windshield” survey or inventory has been interpreted by some as a mandate force your home into costly and lengthy CEQA review process. Placing your home on a list of “eligible historic structures”, against your wishes, may be a wrongful “taking” and lead to unwanted litigation.

Other cities have clear ordinances that declare participation in any HP program strictly voluntary. Many cities rely [on] private philanthropic preservation foundations to motivate homeowners to preserve the historic character of their homes. Most cities use high National and State standards to select truly historic homes. Other have created “districts” or “preservation zones” to encourage private preservation initiatives while “immunizing” other homes from CEQA control. Many rely on the Mills Act as the only significant incentive. No other City has the onerous “agreement” Laguna demands of historical homeowners. This agreement is a huge disincentive.

Please speak out on July 31. The Council must accept the fact that we have total local control of this issue. The Council should create a new “committee” chartered with the task of writing a new HP ordinance from scratch, borrowing the best ideas from other cities while avoiding their mistakes, and complying with clear detailed directives. Those should include 100 percent voluntary participation, no surveys or inventories to avoid CEQA entrapment, insist on the CA and Federal high standards, grant Mills Act contracts concurrently with registration, and encourage formation of a private preservation society to drive private initiatives. 

Doug Cortez

Laguna Beach


Don’t bury our money underground

Tonight the City Council will vote to increase taxes on residents by approving one of two measures increasing the local sales tax from 7.75 to 8.75 percent for the November ballot.  If passed, Laguna Beach sales tax would equal the highest sales tax rate in the County. Here are the two tax measures being proposed:

The General Sales Tax increase ballot measure requires only a 50 percent plus one, a simple majority vote. This measure is deceitfully worded to mislead residents to believe the tax increase will be used for “utility undergrounding” and “fire safety.” But the taxes can be spent instead on any “Other Essential City Services.” In other words, it›s a city slush fund and legally not a dime is required to be used for undergrounding. All the tax money goes into the “general fund.” The City says this gives it “latitude,” but what it really means is “we can spend it anyway we want,” based on the whim of the city council. Don’t be misled and manipulated by the City and City Council. This is a money grab by a city has budget surpluses year after year!

Letter zeiter cartoon

The Special Sales Tax increase ballot measure requires a 2/3rds vote. This measure is also deceitfully worded to mislead residents to believe the tax will be dedicated exclusively for “utility undergrounding and fire safety.” But read the small print. The tax money is not limited to just Laguna Canyon Road and PCH and the initial so called “evacuation routes” – it has now morphed to 14 arbitrary streets and “other areas.” All these streets should be paying to underground their own utilities, like neighborhoods have done for years, not riding on the backs of all taxpayers. But the city wants even more – it wants an open checkbook so this measure as drafted also allows the city to use the tax money for “other fire safety measures and improvements,” whatever the city decides that means, not you! It’s another blank checkbook that the city does not need! 

Stop this taxation now!

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach


Historical Preservation Ordinance Task force Interrupted

After many long meetings regarding the Historical Preservation Ordinance, the City Council voted in favor of forming a Task Force of residents to study and ultimately, make recommendations back to them for action. Council members Steve Dicterow and Toni Iseman volunteered to act as facilitators for the Task force and subsequently interviewed and appointed eleven resident members.

At the first meeting members introduced themselves with a brief bio. Kathy Jensen, representing the city attorney, in answer to a task force member’s concern, reassured that she was representing private citizens, and not just a City Government position. Steve Dicterow stated he didn’t want an artificial Task force timeline or deadline. The direction to the Task force was that it would be assumed that no rules/ordinance was in place and starting from a zero baseline, from scratch, to discern what discretion the City has regarding a Historical Preservation Ordinance. Dicterow stated that one of the biggest issues has been the voluntariness of a home being placed on a (historical resource) list or not. Dicterow asked Kathy, “Does the City have discretion or is this mandated by State law?” Kathy Jensen and Laguna Beach Attorney Larry Nokes were invited to prepare their legal findings regarding what is required by the State and by CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, relating to historical resources.

At the second meeting, Kathy Jensen discussed the requested legal findings of Rutan & Tucker, the City attorneys. Unfortunately, Larry Nokes, who was invited to share legal findings, was not given equal time to go over those findings and was relegated to four minutes during the public comment section at the end of the meeting. The result being, that the legal findings of the City Attorney and of Larry Nokes were not equally presented to the Task Force.

The scheduled June 27 & July 17 Task force meetings were cancelled by City Manager John Pieteg out of concern for potential litigation. A special meeting of the City Council has been scheduled for July 31 so that the City Council, as the lead agency, can hear differing legal views and decide how to go forward. It is my understanding that the City Attorney as well as Larry Nokes, and perhaps others, will be given time to present their legal findings to the Council. The vote of the City Council will determine the future of the Historical Preservation Ordinance, the Task Force, and ultimately, the property rights of Laguna Beach homeowners. The special Council meeting is Tuesday, July 31 at 5 p.m., Council Chambers, City Hall.   

Pat Carpenter

Laguna Beach


Coastal short-term rental supporters ignore historic nuisance laws

Coastal city Short-Term Rental proponents ignore legally-binding land use concepts, typically using meritless, fatally flawed arguments at hearings.

They’re good for business? Unfortunately, coastal trends since 2000 are “Commerce first, residents second.” By residents I mean those NOT owning potential STR parcels.

Favoring commerce over 40+ percent of the population who rent year-round plus percentages of full-time owners not wishing to acquire permits, that constitute an incontestable majority, the commerce tail is wagging the communal quality of life dog.

Beyond permit fees, there’s no proof that more STR would appreciably increase general municipal revenue via boarders spending significant taxable amounts at businesses. Often tenants are extended families and friends. They’ll be saving money by cooking and drinking at the rental, not out.

They increase or assist public access to our beaches? A classic straw man argument. Yes, a few hundred more people will be ensconced, but the Cal Coastal Commission is dead wrong on this one. Otherwise, why allow more and more parking meters, increasing rates plus climbing violation fees? Aren’t limited time meters a form of infringement, inhibition or visitation disincentive?

Coastals increasingly allow increased intensification of use for restaurants and bars without demanding increased onsite parking. Why doesn’t the CCC object to that, these sites eat up yet more public parking, thus decreasing access, don’t they?

STR homes are their castle, limitations constitute a de facto taking? That ignores the basics of common civility, public and private nuisance laws traced back to King Henry III:

“Private nuisance: An unreasonable, unwarranted invasion, where actions of the defendant cause a substantial interference with another’s use/enjoyment of their property. Public nuisance: The defendant’s actions materially affect the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of the community.”

No one has the inalienable right to use their property to the diminishment of their neighbor(s). Yes, some operators are vigilant and do not abuse the terms and conditions. The nightmares abound, absentee owners are trying to maximize income to offset, mitigate their taxes and maintenance. They bought the parcel without STR rights: Enhancing private revenue models is NOT the community’s problem.

The sales industry knows this, the Real Estate Disclosure Act of 1987 is explicit: Seller MUST disclose any adverse condition that COULD affect the value. Listed housing is theoretically forced to reveal the obtrusive potential if in proximity. STRs actually diminish property values, now THERE’S a fiscal infringement, irregular taking including tort (litigation) exposure.

Roger E. Bütow

Laguna Beach


A response to Armando Baez’s Letter to the Editor

Thank you for your concerns regarding this fall’s election Armando! Don’t worry, I’m sure as a Village Laguna board member you will have at least a couple of candidates to toe Village Laguna’s line and make sure that you and all of the homeless advocates in town get their concerns addressed. 

In the meantime you can rest assured that the residents of Laguna who are fed up with the squalor in the canyon and at Main Beach will be tuned in to the “coming debate” regarding solutions. I know what your solution is: build permanent supportive housing for addicts and chronic homeless in the most expensive real estate market in the country and hope more don’t come. Makes sense doesn’t it? It’s clear you’ve decided that my solution of a palpable police presence to deter and prevent the transient criminals from committing crimes will not work for you. You would prefer to continue on our path towards becoming the next Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz or San Francisco. Our sister cities, where residents live in fear and whose streets are littered with trash, feces, and needles. 

You begin your letter by stating that, “Laguna Beach, like many other cities across the country, experienced a dramatic influx of homeless people.” Really? Was that before or after the ACLU sued us? “So to deal with this challenge, city leaders and nonprofit volunteer groups united to develop a solution that would be legal, humane and fair to all.” Fair to all? How is this fair to the 23,000 residents who’ve had to deal with an explosion of low-level crime and a diminished quality of life. Doesn’t sound fair to me! 

You then proceed to credit these failed policies with somehow saving Laguna from the “catastrophic increase in homelessness in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Ana” and then you exclaim, “Somehow our policies maintained the population at a manageable level”. How was that accomplished? Were there quotas placed on how many transients could come to Laguna or how many could be dropped off by neighboring cities? 

Armando, why don’t you focus on Village Laguna’s other political goals? Acknowledge the control you and your political action committee have exercised for decades over our city. The property rights so many of us residents feel you’ve eroded while under the guise of “protecting” our city. Face it, you and Village Laguna are running scared because you can feel the end of decades of control that you have administered over us residents. Your endorsed candidates are going to be defeated this November. The residents of Laguna have had enough!

I am looking forward to debating all of these and many other issues I feel strongly about in the coming months, and yes, I will reduce homelessness in Laguna Beach and return our town to the safety and quality of life we’re accustomed to and deserve. A clean and safe Laguna is our right!

Peter Blake

Laguna Beach


Finding a solution for the homeless challenge

A recent ad in the StuNews [paid for by Peter Blake] announces that long-term business owner Peter Blake has thrown his hat in the race for a city council seat. According to the ad, his main issue seems to be a desire to see the city eliminate homeless from Main Beach and the business district. While Mr. Blake has operated a well-managed and landmark business in the Village since 1993, it appears he has forgotten the good work of so many citizens to find a workable solution for the homeless. 

Recall that years ago, Laguna Beach, like many other cities across the country, experienced a dramatic influx of homeless people. At the time, the city did not have a coordinated strategy that would meet court ordered requirements. While many would have preferred to erect a virtual wall at our borders to keep homeless people out of the city, the courts ruled that this would not be tolerated. So, to deal with this challenge, city leaders and nonprofit volunteer groups united to develop a solution that would be legal, humane and fair to all. 

In 2018, while cities like San Diego, Santa Ana and Los Angeles have seen a catastrophic increase in homelessness, Laguna has a process in place that treats the homeless fairly and humanely while maintaining the population at a manageable level. Yes, homeless citizens are given meals and lodging. At the same time, they are registered, screened for drug use, given health checkups and provided with local transportation meant to get them outside the village center during the evening hours. 

Yes, we would all prefer to see no homeless in our Village but, given the unfortunate circumstances in Southern California and the legal requirements from the courts and the state government, our civic leaders have developed a solution that seems to have prevented the catastrophic situation now experienced by so many of our sister cities. 

Let’s hope that the coming debate leading to the city council election clarifies what solutions each candidate proposes for this and other critical problems facing our village. At this point, it is clear a law enforcement only solution will not work.

Armando Baez

Laguna Beach


Surfers: Respect the Lifeguards!

I was at the beach yesterday, and I watched a surfer, working the waves outside the surfing area at St. Ann’s, narrowly miss a little kid playing in the surf. The lifeguard swam out to the surfer and I presume, asked him to be careful and stay in the surf area. I saw the surfer say something in response, and I couldn’t hear it, but from body language, I could tell it wasn’t nice, then the surfer flipped off the lifeguard and paddled away.  

My son is a guard, and I asked him if he gets blowback like that, and he said, “All the time.” He said the worst are more often locals, because they resent being told what to do on “their” beach. He said he often gets abuse, and more often, ignored, and it’s embarrassing and disheartening. Dudes! Really??? It’s a public beach! There are reasons for the rules! My son had 10 saves the other day! The lifeguards are only doing their jobs, and their jobs are important, and their jobs matter! The ones manning the towers are usually just kids trying to earn some money during the summer. They don’t deserve that kind of abuse! Please!  Be respectful of the lifeguards! 

Please teach your kids to be respectful of the rules, and the lifeguards. And, next time you’re at the beach and you see a lifeguard do something good, tell them how much you appreciate them! Trust me, they need that kind of encouragement sometimes.

Lynn Whitlock

Laguna Beach


Taxes and city income

Tax TAX AND MORE Laguna TAX. 

Some analysis [regardless of the worthiness of the Proposal for the Tax] indicate that even with the huge loss of ‘’bed tax’’ from such closings [four years projected] of Hotel Laguna...our City has plenty of cash income reserves to pay the for proposal without ANY NEW TAX!

It appears, for example, police service is cut to the bone...Residents rarely see patrols outside of the downtown homeless zone…and constant new loss of old revenue such as the downtown dual movie theater. And the stagnant Festival revenues, etc.

We can afford many projects...it’s just [that] the City is adrift with bureaucratic indecision. Look to the current account in City coffers...NOT...our deep pockets.

Paul Merritt

Laguna Beach

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