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City Council backs SCE’s undergrounding plan to reduce wildfire risks in Laguna Beach

At a California Public Utilities Commission hearing in Long Beach last week, Laguna Beach City Councilmember Bob Whalen voiced strong support for Southern California Edison’s (SCE) Targeted Undergrounding Program (TUG) on behalf of the Laguna Beach City Council, emphasizing the program’s potential to reduce wildfire risks and enhance public safety in the area.

SCE’s TUG program is an initiative focused on reducing wildfire risks and enhancing safety by undergrounding electric distribution lines in high-risk areas. SCE is seeking funding for the program through its General Rate Case, which requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

At the CPUC hearing, Whalen highlighted the importance of the plan as it relates to undergrounding utilities along Laguna Canyon Road (SR-133). This initiative could provide critical protection for the city, given that more than 85% of Laguna Beach lies within a CalFire “Very High Fire Hazard” Severity Zone. The undergrounding project aims to mitigate fire risks and protect a vital evacuation route for residents and more than six million annual visitors to the city.

“Undergrounding along SR-133 will directly mitigate the risk of wildfire disasters and protect a critical evacuation route,” Whalen stated during the CPUC hearing. “SR-133 is one of only three routes in and out of the city for emergency evacuation, so ensuring its safety is paramount.”

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach/Photo by Keli Daniels

Winning art in the 2023 City Photo Contest, “Sunrise Canyon” by Keli Daniels

The City of Laguna Beach has already invested in the project, paying $810,000 to SCE for engineering design and hiring a consultant for the necessary environmental documentation. Additionally, the city is conducting public outreach and pursuing grants for the undergrounding of electrical transmission lines not covered under the TUG program.

Whalen praised the TUG program as a wise use of ratepayer funds and was joined by fire chiefs and representatives from the Orange County Fire Association, as well as those from Los Angeles and Ventura counties, in urging the CPUC to approve funding for the program in SCE’s General Rate Case. These program advocates believe the program will strengthen fire safety in high-risk areas.

“Given the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires due to climate change, improving fire safety in electric utilities is crucial,” Whalen added.

SCE has already made strides in fire safety with covered conductors and other above-ground improvements. The expansion of the TUG program aims to further protect communities like Laguna Beach from wildfire threats. The General Rate Case is expected to be voted on by the CPUC in the first quarter of 2025 and it will be known at that time whether the TUG program has been funded.

In addition, the City of Laguna Beach is progressing with the “Laguna Canyon Road: Protect & Connect” project, focusing on enhancing safety, sustainability and managing congestion along the corridor.

Residents are invited to join the city for the upcoming Laguna Canyon Road: Protect & Connect Community Workshop on Tuesday, May 7 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Susi Q Community Center (380 3rd St.). This meeting will provide an opportunity to share input on priorities, concerns and visions for the corridor.

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi, who along with Whalen is the City Council-appointed Subcommittee for Laguna Canyon Road, strongly urges community members to attend the May 7 meeting and provide input on the project. “We strongly encourage residents, community groups and local businesses along Laguna Canyon Road to attend the meeting on May 7. We are looking for broad public input on the project and its potential features which will help us design the best project going forward,” said Rounaghi.

For more information on the project, visit the project website. The public is also encouraged to participate in an online survey available at SurveyMonkey.

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Commission reviews early draft of commercial design guidelines

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week reviewed an early draft of the proposed commercial design guidelines for the city.

Commissioners provided feedback and direction on Wednesday (April 18) to city staff on the document, which is in the very early stages of development. Commissioner comments will be incorporated into the first full draft of the commercial design guidelines, which will go up for review by the commission at a future hearing.

Chair Ken Sadler thanked staff and the subcommittee for their work on the project.

“We’re on the right track,” he said.

It’s a good idea that they are finally bifurcating the commercial design guidelines from the residential guidelines, said Commissioner Jorg Dubin, there have been commercial projects in the past that have tried to follow along the residential guidelines.

“It’s a different beast all together,” he said, “I’m glad that we as a commission, as well as future commissions, will have something more concrete to apply to commercial projects versus having to try to decipher residential guidelines.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The commercial design guidelines would essentially apply to the commercial zones fronting Coast Highway and Glenneyre Street (outside of Downtown)

Much of Wednesday’s discussion revolved around providing clear and objective standards for commercial projects.

The intent here is to create something that’s more objective, said Commissioners Susan McLintock Whitin, who sits on the subcommittee along with Dubin that’s tasked with working with staff on the project.

“In understanding it, one of the things I came to realize was this is to be our version of the design review guidelines. So, it would make it more of a checklist kind of situation and less broad and subjective,” which can be pretty confusing, she said.

Commissioner Steve Goldman agreed that the more objective standards the city sets, the less proposals they’ll receive that are so far outside the box that they just don’t work.

“We, as a commission, I think, are arbiters on the objectivity,” Goldman said. “We can comment and color around the lines, in terms of what the guidelines are. So, I think the more clear we make them and the less ambiguous, for those who are going to be putting things in front of us, it gives us more latitude within the lines of it to comment and steer it along.”

It’s a difficult task to take on, added Chair Pro Tem Steve Kellenberg, trying to create flexibility, allow architectural creativity and individual solutions, but at the same time provide guidelines that are clear and somewhat objective.

He agreed that they should be “less fuzzy and subjective.” A lot of money is spent on designs, and architects and builders often want to have clear guidance and definitions, Kellenberg said. Because they are “guidelines,” there’s room for variety and flexibility in terms of how they’re interpreted for decision-making, he said, but the actual text should be fairly clear and straightforward so architects know what to do.

“It should be as clear and definitive as possible,” Kellenberg said.

As staff adds specifics and substance to the guidelines, it should be clear what they’re striving for, which is the village character, he said, with designs that focus on pedestrian-scale, diversity and eclecticism.

“It’s a little hard to comment because the meat isn’t on the bones yet,” Kellenberg said.

As they flesh out the details, they also want to ensure they avoid outlining a “master-planned look,” Whitin noted.

“The intention here is to create guidelines that allows for us to continue to have eclectic architecture here.”

Not so eclectic to the point of chaos, she added, but adding on to the existing scale and character, and still allow for the architect to put their own personal interpretation into a project.

“It’s intended on one hand to allow flexibility and yet, on the other hand, to make it clear what the guidelines are, both for the applicant and for the Planning Commission,” Whitin said.

Laguna Beach is not a planned community, Dubin agreed. Varying architectural design and style can make for a more interesting streetscape, he said.

New commercial development is always going to look different compared to buildings constructed decades prior, he noted, what was previously considered good design might be very dated today. They need to ensure that the guidelines don’t have too many restrictions on various design styles, he said.

“Different architectural styles can, in fact, enhance not only pedestrian enjoyment, but can also create an interesting visual impact for the community, while still respecting scale and history,” Dubin said. “The goal is the great guidelines that will enhance our community without pigeonholing us with one specific architectural style. Laguna is a very different city than those around us; the creation of these commercial design guidelines will help keep it that way well into the future by baking in specific goals and objectives, while at the same time allowing creative solutions without overbearing restrictions.”

The city is developing the commercial design guidelines to assist with the design review process by clarifying and expanding upon the design review criteria within the context of a non-residential or mixed-use project.

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Council agenda includes next steps for Ti Amo property, update on Promenade work plan, July 4 fireworks or drone options, summer parking management plan

By SARA HALL

The Laguna Beach City Council has several notable items on the agenda next week.

At the Tuesday (April 23) meeting, council will: Provide direction regarding the next steps for the former Ti Amo property; receive an update on the Promenade on Forest Ad Hoc Committee’s work plan and reaffirm the project description as a pedestrian plaza; provide direction show options for the Fourth of July celebrations; and receive an update on the summer 2024 parking management plan and transit services. Earlier in the day, council will hold a joint meeting with the Arts Commission.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider the next steps for the city-owned property formerly occupied by Ti Amo restaurant

During regular business, council will provide direction regarding the next steps for the city-owned property at 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway (formerly occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone).

At the Jan. 24, 2023 meeting, council declared the city-owned property at 31729 and 31735 Coast Highway (also known as 31727 Coast Highway), the former Ti Amo restaurant, as surplus property and “not necessary for the city’s use.”

The item was originally scheduled for the Jan. 10, 2023, meeting, but was removed from the agenda by the city manager.

According to the staff report for next week’s item, the California Department of Housing and Community Development notified the city on November 16 that all the requirements were met under the Surplus Land Act and Laguna Beach is permitted to proceed with the sale of the property, should the city desire to do so.

Staff is now seeking direction regarding next steps for the subject property.

Council may consider options for the property including, but not limited to:

–Sell the property. The city could list the property for sale in the open market. If the city receives an acceptable offer, the sale of the property would result in one-time revenues.

–Lease the property. The city could maintain ownership of the property and issue an RFP for a long-term development lease. If the city receives an acceptable proposal, the long-term lease of the property would result in ongoing revenues.

–Other uses. The city could consider the property for other uses as directed by the council.

The former restaurant property was originally purchased in 2021 by the city for civic uses, including a potential future fire station in South Laguna.

In a 3-2 vote on June 15, 2021, council authorized an agreement with Rincon Consultants Inc. in the amount of $89,199 to provide consulting services for the preparation of an initial study for the acquisition of the Ti Amo property and for a possible mitigated negative declaration, if determined to be appropriate. Councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss dissented.

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 Aug. 4, 2021, to approve city staff’s recommended General Plan consistency determination for the location. Commissioners and staff emphasized that they were only affirming GP consistency for possible future public benefit use, and not a specific use (such as a fire station).

In another split vote on Aug. 24, 2021, council certified the initial study/mitigated negative declaration for the acquisition of the property. The city entered into escrow to acquire the property and offered $2.7 million. Council directed staff to complete any steps necessary to close escrow on the subject property.

On Jan. 5, 2022, the Planning Commission considered a temporary use permit for a parking lot on the empty lot adjacent to the former Ti Amo restaurant, but couldn’t figure out the ingress and egress. They ultimately continued the item to a future meeting, when the idea failed to find a majority of support.

Iseman requested on June 7, 2022, that the council agendize a future item to consider selling the Ti Amo property. While there was no official vote or action at the June meeting, there was general consensus on the dais to obtain an appraisal at the appropriate time in the future when the city might be in the position to sell the property.

Council voted 5-0 on Sept. 20, 2022, to approve moving forward with the acquisition of the property at 31796 South Coast Highway (dental building), which was found to be a superior site for a replacement fire station. After more than a year of contentious split votes on the Ti Amo site and applying the potential pressure of eminent domain on the owner of the 31796 Coast Highway property, there was a consensus of support for the new location. The city closed escrow on the new property on Jan. 4, 2023.

The move to declare the Ti Amo site as surplus came shortly thereafter.

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LB Chamber of Commerce welcomes Jessie Rees Foundation with ribbon cutting

On Thursday, April 11 at the Jessie Rees Foundation’s JoyFactory in Irvine, more than 50 people came to stuff JoyJars for kids fighting cancer. The JoyJar was created by the foundation’s everyday inspiration, Jessie Joy Rees, who fought cancer from March 3, 2011 through January 5, 2012. Jessie created JoyJars, a 64 oz. plastic jar stuffed to the very top with new, age-appropriate toys and games, to bring encouragement and joy to other children fighting cancer.

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Photos courtesy of LB Chamber

(L-R) Julia Smart (NEGU director of development), Shannon Zingel (chamber ambassador), Lana Erlanson (chamber ambassador), Erik Rees (Jessie’s father and co-founder of NEGU), Stacey Rees (Jessie’s mother and co-founder of NEGU), Angie Bystrom (NEGU development manager and chamber ambassador) and Grant Frum (NEGU director of development)

The evening was welcoming and full of hope, joy and love for kids fighting cancer during the ribbon-cutting event welcoming the Jessie Rees Foundation into the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. The mission of the Jessie Rees Foundation is to encourage every kid fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up (NEGU)” by connecting with families, bringing awareness to their stories, offering them a network of resources and sending the entire family doses of encouragement throughout their journey.

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Julia Smart giving a tour of the Joy Factory

The group was treated to witnessing the ribbon cutting by Erik and Stacey Rees (Jessie’s father and mother, co-founders of the Jessie Rees Foundation), along with other members of the foundation and members from the Laguna Beach Chamber. The attendees were also graced by several esteemed guests, including Matthew Peterson, field representative for Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris; Matt Kern, representative for Sen. David Min in California’s 37th State Senate District and Janelle Atinza, representative for State Assemblywoman Diane Dixon, District 72. Each presented Erik with a certificate from their districts welcoming them into the Laguna Beach Chamber. It was a fun, festive evening that entailed many laughs, shared stories and an engaging group stuffing 100 spring rainforest-themed JoyJars.

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Volunteers stuffing JoyJars after the ribbon cutting

“We are honored to join the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce,” said Erik. “By joining hands with the community, we are able to share stories of families fighting cancer right here in our local area and around the world and join forces to make a difference.”

If you would like to learn more, tune into the Chamber Chat Voice of Laguna on Friday, April 28 at 8 a.m. by clicking here, or visit the Jessie Rees Foundation for upcoming events (or to volunteer) at www.negu.org.

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Council candidate shares priorities, stance on local issues

By SARA HALL

A community meeting last week highlighted a local candidate running for Laguna Beach City Council.

The LB Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee held a meeting via Zoom on Thursday (April 4) with 2024 council candidate Hallie Jones as the featured speaker. About 30 people attended online. The committee plans to invite all local candidates to speak at the monthly forum (as the group has done in previous election years) and Jones is the second for 2024. Judie Mancuso previously spoke at the group’s monthly meeting in March. The Chamber does not formally endorse any specific candidate; however, they do speak out on issues that are relevant to their members.

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Courtesy of Hallie Jones

2024 Laguna Beach City Council candidate Hallie Jones

She’s excited to throw her hat in the ring for City Council, Jones said. It will be interesting to see how the next few months play out, she added.

“As a Laguna native, this town is in my blood and I’ve been disheartened and discouraged by a lot of the inefficiencies and back and forth that I’ve seen in our community and in our city government,” Jones said. “Right now, I see this really incredible opportunity. I think we’re on the brink of having this incredibly effective council with a new city manager, a new city attorney, a new community development director. And all of this restructuring, all these changes in leadership, are coming at a time where the city – in my opinion – is going to be facing some of the most pressing issues we’ve seen in decades.”

As they address these complicated issues, the city needs collaborative, nuanced, and thoughtful debate and dialogue, she said.

Jones shared some of her background, noting her time in local schools before her family headed to the East Coast. She returned to the area for college and then landed a position at Heal the Bay.

“I really dove in deep to marine conservation,” she said.

She moved back to Laguna Beach to be closer to family and became the executive director at the Laguna Canyon Foundation. She held that position for a decade before moving over to the Crystal Cove Conservancy as the executive vice president and chief program officer in late 2023.

“(The CCC position) really did combine my love for open space, my love for our marine environment, with the ability to work with city/municipal (and) state government to get great things done,” Jones said.

During the past 10 years with LCF, Jones said she worked closely with the city on certain issues, something she’s continuing at the conservancy. She also serves on the Orange County Parks Commission for OC Supervisor Katrina Foley representing district five and on the board for the Natural Communities Coalition.

“Our coastline and our canyon are so important to me, personally, but also important to our residents, to our visitors, and, by extension, to our economy,” Jones said. “Our beaches and our wildland trails are one of the most special things about this community and we really need to focus on continuing to protect them.”

She confirmed her commitment to preserving the remaining acres of open space, implementing the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, improving climate resiliency on the local beaches and hillsides, and dedicating resources to the trail system and endangered habitats.

Public safety is another top priority for Jones, with a specific focus on wildfires.

“The thing that keeps me up at night more than anything is the risk of catastrophic wildfire,” Jones said. “I really understand how real that risk is.”

During the 1993 fire, she was a student at Laguna Beach High School. The home she grew up in burned to the ground. She can still remember the smell of smoke that lingered in the air for days, Jones commented.

“That is a visceral memory and experience that we share,” she said.

The city’s role in protecting the community from something like that happening again is to take proactive steps.

They need to underground utilities along Laguna Canyon Road, Jones said.

“We need to do that in a way that protects our open space,” she said.

As part of that effort, she also supports exploring the possibility of taking ownership of Laguna Canyon Road from Caltrans. There are pros and cons to consider, she added, but it’s worth looking into.

“One of the main concerns I have if we do not take ownership of Laguna Canyon Road is that (SoCal) Edison’s undergrounding will follow Caltrans design standards and not what we want for our community. It won’t be a decision that we get to make and I think we’ll end up with something that we don’t want,” Jones said.

That might result in damage to the open space, she added.

Working with Caltrans could also take so long that the city might miss out on the grant funding needed to pay for the undergrounding project.

“We’ve got to look at the long-term financial liability and design implications of that decision,” Jones said.

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Council appoints new city manager

By SARA HALL

City Council unanimously appointed a new city manager this week.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (April 9) to hire Dave Kiff as Laguna Beach’s top city staffer.

The $315,000 contract will be for three years with two, one-year extensions. Kiff will start his new position on May 6.

As a city manager, he should listen more than talk, so Tuesday may be the most they hear from him, Kiff joked. He’s honored for the council’s support and is looking forward to getting started.

He lived in Laguna Beach for about 22 years and he’s excited to be back, Kiff noted. He spent most of that time working as city manager for Laguna’s coastal neighbor, Newport Beach.

“(I) drove up the road and worked, and every night I came home here and there’s a reason for that: Because it’s a very special place. It’s a place that I always felt embraced and comfortable and part of the community. I just think it’s so terrific at this point in my life to be able to work here,” Kiff said.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Newly appointed Laguna Beach City Manager Dave Kiff

Several councilmembers noted Kiff’s time as a former Laguna Beach resident.

“Dave, welcome home,” said Councilmember Bob Whalen. “You certainly know our community and the essence of it and the importance of it.”

They’re all looking forward to working with Kiff and moving the organization ahead, Whalen added.

“We have a lot of ambitious goals and objectives, and it takes a good leader to implement those,” he said.

While Newport Beach is a very different city compared to Laguna, there are some similarities, Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi pointed out: Complex issues, dealing with the California Coastal Commission, residents who are highly engaged and have high expectations.

Rounaghi noted Kiff’s time in Newport Beach while the city hall and civic center complex was constructed. His experience with that project will be helpful as Laguna Beach moves forward with a facilities master plan, he commented.

“You don’t really need to embrace the uniqueness of Laguna Beach and understand how special it is to be city manager, but I think it’s a bonus,” Rounaghi said. “I’m also just so optimistic about what the future will bring.”

Choosing a city manager is one of the most important decisions they make as a council, Rounaghi said, and he’s grateful Kiff is willing to take on the job.

“We can set all the policies and priorities that we want to come up with, but really none of those are going to happen without a city manager who can implement them,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone better prepared to hit the ground running than Dave Kiff.”

Mayor Sue Kempf noted that she had coffee with Kiff, who has already reached out to councilmembers and department heads even though he’s not working yet.

“I was impressed by that,” she said.

He’s a really good fit for Laguna Beach, Kempf added, and they’re going to work well together.

They are fortunate to have someone who has lived in Laguna Beach for quite some time and was integrated into the community and understands Laguna Beach’s values, Councilmember Mark Orgill said. On top of that, Kiff has the experience of running a complex coastal city like Newport Beach.

“I just don’t see how it could get any better than that,” he said.

They’ve had a highly trained and skilled interim city manager with Sean Joyce for the past six months, Weiss said, and now they’ll have a reputed master of coastal city management.

“I’m happy for our Laguna Beach community and I’m looking forward to working with and learning from Mr. Kiff,” he said.

Council engaged in a formal competitive executive recruitment process over the last several months to select a qualified candidate to fill the position, Director of Human Resources and Risk Management Aggie Nesh said. Based on this process, Kiff was identified as the candidate who is best qualified and able to serve as city manager.

Kiff previously worked in state legislature and other city and county jurisdictions, Nesh said. Most notably, he spent 20 years at Laguna’s coastal neighbor to the north, Newport Beach, including nearly a decade as the city manager. After Newport, he was interim executive director of Association of California Cities-Orange County and then moved to Sonoma County where he led the homeless services division.

The city manager will receive an annual salary of $315,000, with an annual cost of living adjustment equivalent to the percentage change in the May Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers, as calculated by the Department of Industrial Relations, up to 4%. He will receive the same benefits as other management employees. Kiff will also receive: Deferred compensation of $30,500 per year, to be adjusted annually to align with the IRS maximum permitted amount and prorated for partial years of employment; monthly housing stipend of $1,000 (subject to certain provisions); vehicle allowance of $500 per month; cell phone stipend of $80 per month; a laptop from the city and other benefits.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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Council agenda: New city manager appointment, local housing trust fund, outsourcing investment management slated

By SARA HALL

The Laguna Beach City Council has several notable items on the agenda tonight.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, April 9), council will consider: Appointment of a new city manager; establishing a local housing trust fund; extending an urgency ordinance related to state Senate Bill 9; annual report on the fiscal year 2021-22 audit results; outsourcing management of the city’s investment portfolio; request to remove a residence from the city’s historic register; resolutions related to an underground utility assessment district (Woods Cove) and an amendment of the Design Review Board bylaws regarding the appointment of temporary alternates.

Up first during regular business, council will consider the biggest item of the night: The recommended appointment of Dave Kiff as the new city manager.

According to city code, the city manager must be appointed by a motion or resolution with at least three councilmembers in support.

Council has engaged in a formal competitive executive recruitment process over the last several months to select a qualified candidate to fill the position. Based on this process, Kiff was identified as the candidate who is best qualified and able to serve as city manager.

Courtesy of Dave Kiff

Councilmembers will consider appointing Dave Kiff as the new Laguna Beach city manager

Kiff previously worked in state legislature and other city and county jurisdictions. Most notably, he spent 20 years at Laguna’s coastal neighbor to the north, Newport Beach, including nearly a decade as the city manager. After Newport, he was interim executive director of the Association of California Cities-Orange County and then moved to Sonoma County, where he led the homeless services division.

According to the staff report for tonight’s item, the city manager will receive an annual salary of $315,000 and will receive the same benefits as other management employees. The city manager will also receive a monthly housing stipend of $1,000 (subject to certain provisions); vehicle allowance of $500 per month; cell phone stipend of $80 per month; a laptop from the city and other benefits.

The city is in the process of a background check, which will need to be completed before Kiff assumes the position of city manager.

The employment agreement, if approved tonight by City Council, will be effective as of May 6, the date Kiff will commence his duties in the new role.

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Photo by Scott Brashier

City Council will consider establishing a local housing trust fund

Another notable item on the agenda is last during regular business, council will consider establishing a local housing trust fund.

If approved, the action will also adopt administrative guidelines; adopt Uniform Multifamily Regulations (UMRs), and authorize the city manager to apply for and execute agreements for grants related to the Laguna Beach Local Housing Trust Fund.

Council is also recommended to authorize the city manager to issue a notice of funding availability (NOFA) of existing housing in-lieu funds and housing funds, and of anticipated LHTF funding.

Staff is expected to return to council on May 14 with results of the NOFA and a request to issue letters of intent.

On Dec. 12, 2023, the City Council directed staff to conduct additional analysis with representatives from the Housing and Human Services Committee and, if feasible, return with the appropriate document(s) to establish a local housing trust fund.

HHSC completed extensive research and concluded that a LHTF would provide valuable funding to facilitate the development of affordable housing in Laguna Beach.

A housing trust fund acts as a critical financial resource to tackle housing challenges within a community. More specifically, a housing trust fund is a pool of money set aside by the city to support various initiatives aimed at making housing more affordable, accessible and sustainable. This funding can be used for a variety of purposes, including loans or programs.

According to staff, in the context of the state’s LHTF grant program, a housing trust is: “a public, joint public and private, or charitable nonprofit organization,” which was established by “legislation, ordinance, resolution (including nonprofit articles of incorporation), or a public-private partnership organized to receive specific public, or public and private, revenue to address local housing needs.”

On March 27, HHSC discussed the local housing trust fund idea and added input on the recommendations in the draft resolution, LHTF program application, administrative guidelines and other related documents.

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Commission approves extending outdoor dining at Wild Taco

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week unanimously approved allowing Wild Taco Laguna Beach to continue their use of outdoor dining.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Wednesday (April 3) in support of a temporary use permit and a coastal development permit to extend outdoor dining for the business, located at 188 South Coast Highway, the southwest corner of Coast Highway and Ocean Avenue. The previously approved TUP expired on January 1, and the commission’s action set the new expiration date for January 1, 2026, consistent with Assembly Bill 1217, extending the AB 61 provisions related to outdoor dining parking requirements, until the same date.

Overall, commissioners supported outdoor dining at the location and the restaurant’s site plan layout for the parklet.

The seating hasn’t changed much and it’s not intrusive, Commissioner Steve Goldman pointed out.

They haven’t switched much around, if anything, since they were initially approved, Chair Ken Sadler agreed. Aside from adding umbrellas, which was a smart idea, he noted.

Wild Taco’s outdoor seating is directly across from Main Beach Park, Sadler pointed out. This is one of the parklets that frequently gets utilized, he said.

“It’s a unique location,” he said.

After extending the permits for the other restaurants with outdoor dining earlier this year, it makes sense to approve this application as well, added Chair Pro Tem Steve Kellenberg.

“It’s hard not to support it,” Kellenberg said. “Plus, I think it does add to the street character.”

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Site Plan courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

The site plan for the outdoor dining parklet at Wild Taco, as approved by the Planning Commission this week

The outdoor dining program was approved in May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on indoor dining. The action authorized outdoor dining and outdoor display of merchandise on the adjacent storefront sidewalk through the approval of a temporary use permit.

The program was first extended in August 2020 and again in January 2021. After Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October 2021 that allowed jurisdictions with outdoor dining to reduce the number of required parking spaces for existing business uses, the program was extended again in November 2021.

In May 2023, council approved a market rate fee schedule for outdoor dining programs/parklets on public property in Downtown. The rate was set at $5 per square foot, per month, plus a $4,500 maintenance fee.

On October 8, Newsom signed AB 1217, extending the previous state law and allowed cities to waive parking requirements for outdoor dining until Jan. 1, 2026. A majority of council voted on November 7 to continue the program for outdoor dining and parklets until the same date.

The Planning Commission, at their January 17 meeting, approved TUPs and CDPs for 10 businesses, which extended outdoor dining as an interim measure while staff further evaluates the outdoor dining and parklet program, explained Senior Administrative Analyst Louie Lacasella. Commissioners added a condition of approval that the permits return to the PC in three months with a report on the project’s consistency with the originally approved TUP, specifically focused on the number and layout of chairs and tables. The commission approved permits for another four businesses on February 7 with the same condition.

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Council agenda: New city manager appointment, local housing trust fund, outsourcing investment management slated

By SARA HALL

The Laguna Beach City Council has several notable items on the agenda next week.

At the Tuesday (April 9) meeting, council will consider: Appointment of a new city manager; establishing a local housing trust fund; extending an urgency ordinance related to state Senate Bill 9; annual report on the fiscal year 2021-22 audit results; outsourcing management of the city’s investment portfolio; request to remove a residence from the city’s historic register; resolutions related to an underground utility assessment district (Woods Cove) and an amendment of the Design Review Board bylaws regarding the appointment of temporary alternates.

Up first during regular business, council will consider the biggest item of the night: The recommended appointment of Dave Kiff as the new city manager.

According to city code, the city manager must be appointed by a motion or resolution with at least three councilmembers in support.

Council has engaged in a formal competitive executive recruitment process over the last several months to select a qualified candidate to fill the position. Based on this process, Kiff was identified as the candidate who is best qualified and able to serve as city manager.

Courtesy of Dave Kiff

Councilmembers will consider appointing Dave Kiff as the new Laguna Beach city manager

Kiff previously worked in state legislature and other city and county jurisdictions. Most notably, he spent 20 years at Laguna’s coastal neighbor to the north, Newport Beach, including nearly a decade as the city manager. After Newport, he was interim executive director of the Association of California Cities-Orange County and then moved to Sonoma County, where he led the homeless services division.

According to the staff report for next week’s item, the city manager will receive an annual salary of $315,000 and will receive the same benefits as other management employees. The city manager will also receive a monthly housing stipend of $1,000 (subject to certain provisions); vehicle allowance of $500 per month; cell phone stipend of $80 per month; a laptop from the city and other benefits.

The city is in the process of a background check, which will need to be completed before Kiff assumes the position of city manager.

The employment agreement, if approved on Tuesday by City Council, will be effective as of May 6, the date Kiff will commence his duties in the new role.

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Photo by Scott Brashier

City Council will consider establishing a local housing trust fund

Another notable item on the agenda is last during regular business, council will consider establishing a local housing trust fund.

If approved, the action will also adopt administrative guidelines; adopt Uniform Multifamily Regulations (UMRs), and authorize the city manager to apply for and execute agreements for grants related to the Laguna Beach Local Housing Trust Fund.

Council is also recommended to authorize the city manager to issue a notice of funding availability (NOFA) of existing housing in-lieu funds and housing funds, and of anticipated LHTF funding.

Staff is expected to return to council on May 14 with results of the NOFA and a request to issue letters of intent.

On Dec. 12, 2023, the City Council directed staff to conduct additional analysis with representatives from the Housing and Human Services Committee and, if feasible, return with the appropriate document(s) to establish a local housing trust fund.

HHSC completed extensive research and concluded that a LHTF would provide valuable funding to facilitate the development of affordable housing in Laguna Beach.

A housing trust fund acts as a critical financial resource to tackle housing challenges within a community. More specifically, a housing trust fund is a pool of money set aside by the city to support various initiatives aimed at making housing more affordable, accessible and sustainable. This funding can be used for a variety of purposes, including loans or programs.

According to staff, in the context of the state’s LHTF grant program, a housing trust is: “a public, joint public and private, or charitable nonprofit organization,” which was established by “legislation, ordinance, resolution (including nonprofit articles of incorporation), or a public-private partnership organized to receive specific public, or public and private, revenue to address local housing needs.”

On March 27, HHSC discussed the local housing trust fund idea and added input on the recommendations in the draft resolution, LHTF program application, administrative guidelines and other related documents.

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Council moves forward with solar panel study on city facilities, electric fleet conversion

By SARA HALL

City Council this week unanimously agreed on several items to move forward on the solar panel assessment for city facilities and electric fleet conversion.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (March 26) to proceed with issuing a request for proposals for implementing a microgrid resiliency system for four potential sites, along with other locations that staff believes could be viable. They also directed staff to return with the three potential reserve power options (24, 48, or 72 hours) for each of the sites in a matrix form.

The four proposed sites are: Corporation yard, City Hall campus and lift station, Susi Q Senior and Community Center, and the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School). Council also requested adding three other properties (Laguna Playhouse, Festival of the Arts and the animal shelter), if viable.

The ultimately approved motion also included a preference for providing U.S.-based built solar panels and battery power, but not limiting it to those.

Council also directed the city manager to retain Optony Inc. for a cost not to exceed $75,000 to serve as an owner’s representative for tasks related to preparing an RFP and financial findings on the proposals received.

The action also authorized the city manager to execute a $130,000 consultant services agreement with ICF Incorporated, LLC, for the preparation of a fleet electrification and electric vehicle charging implementation plan, along with a $20,000 contingency amount.

Councilmembers also heard an update on the status of the development of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

Councilmembers were supportive of the overall effort.

“It’s good to be bringing this thing to fruition and I’m supportive of all of it,” said Councilmember Bob Whalen.

There is a lot of different factors that go into the overarching effort, some noted.

“This is like a three-legged stool,” said Councilmember George Weiss. “You have to build the solar power, the battery backup (and) the infrastructure.”

Stepping back and considering what success is when it comes to climate action, the notable accomplishment will be when the plan gets implemented, said Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi.

“To me, success is not a beautifully written report, success is action,” he said. “Then the question becomes how do we move beyond analysis paralysis and start studying this and figure out how we move forward.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Rounaghi suggested retaining an owner’s representative who won’t have a financial interest in the project and will be able to give the city staff technical assistance and ensure they get the right pricing as they work with solar developers. It’s a proven model that’s worked in the past, he noted.

“We can really do it in the way that’s the best for us,” he said. “I really think having an owner’s representative is going to be very critical to making sure that we get this right.”

Since the city manager can execute contracts under $75,000 without an RFP, Rounaghi recommended authorizing the CM to execute an owner’s representative solar procurement contract up to that limit.

Although Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frimond warned the council that idea may not work, financially, as it may not scale appropriately.

Jonathan Whelan, Optony vice president of on-site energy programs, confirmed that the procurement management could be broken up into multiple tasks: Putting together an RFP, going through the proposals and preparing financial findings (that leads to a decision), and then supporting contract negotiations.

“If there are some break-ups out of those three tasks that would make things easier for the city, we’re happy to be flexible,” he said.

They don’t expect city staff to become an expert on this one project, Whelan commented, and so that’s where they come in and essentially act on behalf of the municipality to get the project done.

Rounaghi recommended directing staff to enter into an agreement with Optony for the first two tasks, which should total less than $75,000. That way, they don’t have to wait until May to move forward with the RFP, he commented.

Other councilmembers were anxious to move the project forward.

“I just want to make sure we get something done here,” said Mayor Sue Kempf. “I want to get stuff done.”

She emphasized keeping it simple and moving the process forward.

That’s what this process will do, Rounaghi confirmed.

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Council agenda includes solar panel assessment, housing recommendations, study session on zoning code update

By SARA HALL

There are several interesting items on the agenda for Laguna Beach City Council tonight.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, March 26), during the study session, consent calendar and during regular business, council will consider and/or review: Comprehensive zoning code update; solar panel assessment (microgrid resiliency), electric fleet conversion, and climate action and adaptation plan update; housing-related recommendations from the artist work/live ad hoc committee; possible adjustments to campaign contribution limits; extension of an agreement for the smart parking guidance system; setting hearing dates for the annual weed abatement and sidewalk and intersection visibility nuisance programs, and award a contract to purchase and install a cellular booster system for a city property.

During the study session, council will receive a presentation from staff on the draft scope of services for a comprehensive zoning code update, discuss recommendations by staff and provide further direction.

If the scope of services is approved, council will direct staff to proceed by issuing a request for proposals.

Council may also choose to appoint two members to an ad hoc committee tasked with collaborating with staff and consultants on the zoning code update effort.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider a solar panel assessment for city facilities, including the LB Recreation and Community Center

Up first during regular business (if council continues the commercial district beautification/property maintenance ordinance to a future meeting), the council will consider a solar panel assessment (microgrid resiliency), electric fleet conversion, and climate action and adaptation plan update.

Council will consider proceeding with implementing the microgrid resiliency system by identifying which site(s) and battery storage system (24-, 48-, or 72-hours reservoir) staff should pursue.

If approved, the item will also authorize the city manager to execute a $130,000 consultant services agreement with ICF Incorporated, LLC, for the preparation of a fleet electrification and electric vehicle charging implementation plan, along with a $20,000 contingency amount.

Staff is also recommending council appropriate $75,000 from an available fund balance in the capital improvement fund for the consultant agreement.

The action will also direct staff to issue a request for proposal for micro grid system option(s) and provide cost figures during the fiscal year 2024-25 budget workshop scheduled for May 14.

Councilmembers will also hear an update on the status of the development of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

Council established the installation of solar panels on city facilities as a top priority for staff to pursue this year at the annual planning workshop on January 19. In response, staff is presenting the results of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan’s microgrid study, which provides the council with conceptual layouts and direct purchase cost estimates for four city locations.

According to the staff report, a microgrid study explores the establishment of smaller, self-sufficient power systems using renewable energy sources, to enhance local electricity reliability and availability. The city’s study evaluated five Laguna Beach facilities: corporation yard, city hall, city hall lift station, Laguna Beach Susi Q and Senior Center, and the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School).

The report considered energy consumption at each facility, plus projected increases based on the fleet electrification and electric vehicle charging infrastructure master plan.

While also working on an electric vehicle implementation plan, staff determined that merging the microgrid study project with the city’s EV infrastructure endeavors would be mutually beneficial, given the technical synergies and close correlation between the two, the staff report explains.

The item will also include an update on CAAP. Overall, the project remains within budget, according to staff, although there is an anticipated two-month delay in presenting the final report, now expected later in 2024. The delay comes from the decision to enhance key foundational documents.

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Planning Commission continues Main Beach Park renovation project, directs staff on details, focus on original plans

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week unanimously agreed to continue the Main Beach Park renovation project to give staff time to work out the details of the plan. Most of the discussion revolved around staying true to the intent of the original plans for the park and comments were focused on plants, turf, walkways and paving styles, benches and lighting fixtures.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Wednesday (March 20) to continue the project until the May 15 meeting. The proposed project aims to improve pedestrian circulation, reduce water usage, and update worn and outdated furnishings at the park, located between marine safety headquarters and Laguna Avenue.

They aren’t working under a tight time constraint, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to request the project come back to the Planning Commission one more time, said Chair Ken Sadler. That will give staff time to address their comments and concerns before it moves along and the commissioners never get a chance to see it again, he said.

The plan definitely needs to return to the Planning Commission, said Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin, noting that she wasn’t comfortable approving it with conditions without the PC reviewing it again.

“This is our iconic project,” she said. “This is the most important public space in this whole city and it hasn’t been touched in how long? Why on earth would we just make comments and walk away from it without looking at it again? I just think it’s essential that it come back.”

Commissioner Jorg Dubin agreed that the plan should be refined and return to the Planning Commission.

“Because it is such an important feature of Laguna Beach, it would be hard for me to approve this with conditions and then just kind of let it go into the ether,” he said. “It’s important to get it right.”

There has been a lot of valuable input from the public and commissioners, Dubin noted, so another month or so to solidify a comprehensive plan for moving this forward would be appropriate.

Part of the capital improvement program is to systematically upgrading the parks on a 35- to 50-year cycle, Whitin noted.

“Whatever we do now, we should be thinking about the long term,” she said. “Whereas we could do a couple of band aid things right now, I don’t think we should. I think we should look at this holistically and think about this as a renovation of the park.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Main Beach Park

When the project was first reviewed in 2019, some of the concepts were very radical, said Assistant Director of Public Works Tom Perez. There was overwhelming feedback from the public and councilmembers to reduce the scope and to really preserve the existing character of the park, he explained.

Areas were identified where minimal changes could reduce some of the turf, improve or decrease water consumption, and protect the “window to the sea,” Perez said.

A concept review was presented to the Planning Commission on Nov. 3, 2021, and there was a consensus for wood or synthetic wood or recycled plastic textured to look like wood for several of the features. Something that would match the vibe of the park and boardwalk, while also withstand the environment and vandalism. Commissioners also discussed the overall theme. Specific feedback was shared regarding trash receptacles, light fixtures, and the benches – all of which were hot topics again this week.

The proposed renovation of Main Beach Park includes several key components. The landscape will undergo revitalization, with plans to renovate turf areas, planter beds and their respective irrigation systems. This initiative is designed to reduce grass areas by approximately 5,950 square feet, resulting in a 10% decrease in water usage.

To improve pedestrian circulation and accessibility to the beach from Coast Highway, two new pedestrian paths will be added, extending from the Ocean Avenue crosswalk to the existing boardwalk. These pathways will include decorative pavers and concrete to match the existing walkway adjacent to the marine safety headquarters building.

The biggest element added are the connections at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Coast Highway, Perez said. These additions come after the public works department completed some intersection improvements in 2019, he explained. Staff is proposing two walkways that will connect people crossing the street directly towards the stairs down to the sand, Perez explained.

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Council agenda includes solar panel assessment, housing recommendations, study session on zoning code update

By SARA HALL

There are several interesting items on the agenda for Laguna Beach City Council next week.

At the Tuesday (March 26) meeting, during the study session, consent calendar and during regular business, council will consider and/or review: Comprehensive zoning code update; solar panel assessment (microgrid resiliency), electric fleet conversion, and climate action and adaptation plan update; housing-related recommendations from the artist work/live ad hoc committee; possible adjustments to campaign contribution limits; extension of an agreement for the smart parking guidance system; setting hearing dates for the annual weed abatement and sidewalk and intersection visibility nuisance programs, and award a contract to purchase and install a cellular booster system for a city property.

During the study session, council will receive a presentation from staff on the draft scope of services for a comprehensive zoning code update, discuss recommendations by staff and provide further direction.

If the scope of services is approved, council will direct staff to proceed by issuing a request for proposals.

Council may also choose to appoint two members to an ad hoc committee tasked with collaborating with staff and consultants on the zoning code update effort.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider a solar panel assessment for city facilities, including the LB Recreation and Community Center

Up first during regular business (if council continues the commercial district beautification/property maintenance ordinance to a future meeting), the council will consider a solar panel assessment (microgrid resiliency), electric fleet conversion, and climate action and adaptation plan update.

Council will consider proceeding with implementing the microgrid resiliency system by identifying which site(s) and battery storage system (24-, 48-, or 72-hours reservoir) staff should pursue.

If approved, the item will also authorize the city manager to execute a $130,000 consultant services agreement with ICF Incorporated, LLC, for the preparation of a fleet electrification and electric vehicle charging implementation plan, along with a $20,000 contingency amount.

Staff is also recommending council appropriate $75,000 from an available fund balance in the capital improvement fund for the consultant agreement.

The action will also direct staff to issue a request for proposal for micro grid system option(s) and provide cost figures during the fiscal year 2024-25 budget workshop scheduled for May 14.

Councilmembers will also hear an update on the status of the development of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

Council established the installation of solar panels on city facilities as a top priority for staff to pursue this year at the annual planning workshop on January 19. In response, staff is presenting the results of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan’s microgrid study, which provides the council with conceptual layouts and direct purchase cost estimates for four city locations.

According to the staff report, a microgrid study explores the establishment of smaller, self-sufficient power systems using renewable energy sources, to enhance local electricity reliability and availability. The city’s study evaluated five Laguna Beach facilities: corporation yard, city hall, city hall lift station, Laguna Beach Susi Q and Senior Center, and the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School).

The report considered energy consumption at each facility, plus projected increases based on the fleet electrification and electric vehicle charging infrastructure master plan.

While also working on an electric vehicle implementation plan, staff determined that merging the microgrid study project with the city’s EV infrastructure endeavors would be mutually beneficial, given the technical synergies and close correlation between the two, the staff report explains.

The item will also include an update on CAAP. Overall, the project remains within budget, according to staff, although there is an anticipated two-month delay in presenting the final report, now expected later in 2024. The delay comes from the decision to enhance key foundational documents.

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Council agrees to pursue city-owned pool, rejects LBUSD joint-use option

By SARA HALL

City Council this week reviewed community pool alternatives and unanimously agreed to pursue a city-owned pool and not follow a joint-use option with the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (March 12) to direct staff to explore options to build a new 25-meter pool at an alternate location that would be constructed, operated and maintained by the city. The alternative was to follow-up on potential joint use of a 50-meter pool planned by LBUSD or the council could also decide to pursue both options.

The subcommittee tasked with looking into the issue comprised of Mayor Sue Kempf and Councilmember Bob Whalen.

They had several meetings with LBUSD staff and board subcommittee, city staff, Sensible Laguna representatives and other community members, Whalen said. After gathering input from the different stakeholders, they presented the full council with several options and did not make a specific recommendation.

“There’s no clear answer on this one,” Whalen said. “There are pros and cons to each option, and there’s really three options, but there’s no perfect solution.”

Councilmembers agreed that the better plan is for the city to build its own pool to better fit the community’s needs.

He much prefers owning versus renting, said Councilmember George Weiss, and it doesn’t make sense to essentially rent the pool from the district but pay for half of it. There would be a lot more flexibility in programs and access (particularly for families and young kids) if the city owned their own pool, he added. Another benefit is not being required to schedule programs around the school district, he added.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand. If we provide programs, people will come,” Weiss said.

Councilmember Mark Orgill recommended moving the project to the “front of the line” of the facilities master plan so they can get started on it immediately.

The city hired Griffin Structures, Inc., to work on the facilities master plan, Orgill noted, and they are also the company that did the assessment on the previous pool plan. They are relatively up to speed and could jump on it fairly quick, he noted.

It’s a good idea to include it in the facilities master plan, Kempf noted, because the city is so compact. Everyone is on top of each other, she commented, there are no wide-open spaces to put a pool or other facilities.

“We will get opposition no matter where we try to put the pool in this town,” Kempf noted.

Putting it in the FMP will allow for the city to take a more holistic approach, she said.

The current pool is unacceptable for community’s needs, added Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi. At this point, he’s not prepared to make that kind of financial contribution to the school district, which has committed to moving forward with a 50-meter pool. The right place to put those funds is in the city’s facilities master plan, he agreed.

Whalen noted the challenges with the separate district and city timelines for constructing the pools. They can’t go two or three years without any access to a pool, but the process takes time, he said, so he suggested directing the committee to work with staff and Griffin Structures to figure out options for a plan for the interim.

Both Whalen’s and Orgill’s suggestions were ultimately included in the approved motion.

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Rendering courtesy of LBUSD

A preliminary rendering of the LBUSD pool

There was also a lot of discussion about the school district’s plan for a 50-meter pool and frustration with the lack of negotiation.

An objective of the subcommittee was to ensure the school district understood the needs for the programs provided by the city, Kempf explained. They asked the district officials “point blank” if LBUSD would be interested in building a 40-meter pool.

“They would not negotiate with us on size,” Kempf said. “They voted on a 50-meter pool, they plan to build a 50-meter pool – very clear.”

Kempf hoped they would negotiate with the school district, not just on size, but on programs and usage.

“That didn’t really happen. We had a lot of talks with them and, I think, a lot of good faith discussions, but, in the end, they just weren’t willing to compromise,” Kempf said.

The city has been a committed partner with the district since 1994, Weiss noted, and funds a large percentage of the operations and staff for the pool.

“Placing pressure on us to say ‘Take it or leave it’ – it doesn’t sit well with me. And that’s what this is and I just don’t think that’s right,” Weiss said.

The costs are pretty similar to either build the city’s own pool or go in with the district, several councilmembers and public speakers noted.

Their fiduciary obligation is to the taxpayers, the residents, Rounaghi said.

“It wouldn’t make sense at this point to go in with the district,” he said.

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Council candidate shares stance on Promenade, local issues

By SARA HALL

A community meeting last week highlighted a local candidate running for Laguna Beach City Council.

The LB Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee held a meeting via Zoom on Thursday (March 7) with 2024 council candidate Judie Mancuso as the featured speaker. More than 20 people attended online. The committee plans to invite all local candidates to speak at the monthly forum (as the group has done in previous election years) and Mancuso is the first for 2024. The Chamber does not formally endorse any specific candidate; however, they do speak out on issues that are relevant to their members.

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Courtesy of Judie Mancuso For City Council 

2024 Laguna Beach City Council candidate Judie Mancuso

Mancuso talked about her background in information technology, her work with large corporations, and what led her to found the nonprofit Social Compassion in Legislation. Jumping from managing IT systems for companies to advocating for the protection of the environment and animals at the California Capitol was a fairly straightforward transition, she commented.

“You’re not working on computer code, you’re working on policy code,” Mancuso said.

In both situations, she works with the various stakeholders to either create something new to address an issue or fix the existing system.

She first started paying attention to the local council in 2001, after she bought her Mystic Hills home and there was a project in the works on “unbuildable property” just down the street. Mancuso and her neighbors petitioned city hall, but the project plans continued forward.

In 2016, she ran for City Council in an effort to bring the issue forward, Mancuso said. She ran against incumbents who were already embedded in the community and admitted that she didn’t stand a “chance” at winning, but wanted to raise issues she felt weren’t being discussed. Looking back, she felt she had to “make noise,” Mancuso commented, and referenced Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign as an example.

Mancuso ran again in 2018 and felt the likelihood of her winning was better than the campaign two years prior, until more than a dozen other people joined the campaign and it became a very crowded race. Although she didn’t earn a council seat, it was an educational experience, she noted.

“I learned a lot from that campaign,” Mancuso said.

She went door to door to businesses in Downtown and elsewhere in Laguna Beach and asked about their concerns and key issues. The people she spoke to were excited to talk to a candidate, she recalled.

In 2022, she threw her hat in the ring for the State Assembly race for District 72. Initially, she had no intentions of running, but she was approached by Orange County democrat leadership who wanted a candidate to run against Republican Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach). Although Dixon got the votes that ultimately earned her a spot in Sacramento, Mancuso said it was a valuable experience.

“Winning looks a lot of different ways and I felt like I won on a lot of levels because I met so many people and it was just such a great experience,” Mancuso said.

Mancuso received 90,730 votes (compared to Dixon’s 116,588), which she called “extraordinary” for a first-time candidate in a historically red district.

She enjoyed it and learned a lot, Mancuso added, and it helped her be a better candidate today.

Answering a question from the audience about the city’s plans to make the Promenade on Forest permanent, Mancuso said she understood the need for the Promenade at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the right thing to do at the time and there was a need for people to be outside. It seemed like a good idea, so the city “threw money at it,” but it has since “morphed and changed” over the last few years, she added.

“When there was discussion to make it permanent or not, I heard both sides of the story,” she said.

Some businesses wanted the parking spaces back and there were disputes over the “corrals,” Mancuso said. She suggested using the space on the weekends, maybe as a farmers’ market.

But “the train has left the station,” she concluded.

When pressed about her specific position on the issue and whether or not she would vote for a permanent plan for the Promenade – which Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold highlighted that their public survey has found 88% in favor of – Mancuso said she’s “good with it” as long as that’s what the majority of people want.

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Council to consider community pool alternatives, meeting conduct, ambulance program review

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting covers a lot of notable items.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, March 12), council will consider and/or review: Community pool alternatives; ordinance amending city code related to the conduct and administration of the City Council and order of business at council meetings; fiscal year 2022-23 report for the city operated ambulance program; appoint to councilmembers to the ad hoc committee to review FY 2024-25 community grant applications and revise fund balances for the FY 2023-24 mid-year budget modifications.

During regular business, council will review community pool alternatives.

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering courtesy of LBUSD

A preliminary rendering of the LBUSD pool

The subcommittee tasked with looking into the issue, comprised of Mayor Sue Kempf and Councilmember Bob Whalen, are recommending the council review alternatives for a future community pool facility and provide policy direction to staff to either pursue joint use of a 50-meter pool planned by the Laguna Beach Unified School District or explore options to build a new 25-meter pool at an alternate location that would be constructed, operated and maintained by the city. The council could also decide to pursue both options.

The two groups have jointly operated the 25-meter pool situated on LBUSD property by the high school since 1994. According to the terms of the joint use agreement, the city is responsible for maintaining and operating the pool 70% of the time for community aquatics programs, while LBUSD utilizes it for the remaining 30%, staff previously explained.

A new aquatic center for the school has been a hot topic at study sessions and lengthy forums for more than a year. The expansion aims to accommodate the growing demand from both LBUSD athletic programs and city-sponsored aquatics programs.

City Council and LBUSD board of education also held a special joint session and the pool was the most discussed issue.

Kempf and Whalen were appointed to the subcommittee in a 4-1 vote on October 10 (Councilmember George Weiss dissented) and asked to discuss pool options, including joint-use opportunities with LBUSD. The action also directed the ad hoc subcommittee to return to council with a list of stakeholders who are engaged in the process, through both informal meetings and public meetings, and report back the results of the discussions and data gathering.

As part of the school district’s facility master plan, a majority of the school board approved building a 50-meter pool on December 14.

According to tonight’s council staff report, the district plans to proceed with design of the project in spring and recently issued a request for proposals for consulting services to assist with design and construction.

The district requested that the city indicate before March 31 the level of participation, if any, it would like to have in the design, financing and use of the expanded pool facility.

The council subcommittee met with LBUSD staff and officials on several occasions to gain an understanding of the district’s policy aspirations and programming interests. The subcommittee also met with Sensible Laguna, a local resident group, to better understand the interests of neighbors and review the data they had gathered.

Also during regular business tonight, council will consider an ordinance amending city code related to the conduct and administration of the City Council and order of business at council meetings.

At the City Council Planning Workshop on January 19, councilmembers discussed potential changes to the agenda format and council meeting process and directed staff to return with a proposal.

Tonight’s ordinance also makes some clean-up revisions, as the relevant chapter in city code has not been updated in decades and contains outdated terms and provisions, according to the staff report.

Policies related to the administration of council were adopted at the February 27 meeting. The items (regarding agenda order of business and policies updating procedures for councilmember placement of items on council agendas and establishing the format of meeting minutes) were on the consent calendar, but prompted lengthy discussions about each.

The proposed ordinance would add a provision related to the selection of mayor and mayor pro tem. City code is currently silent on the matter, according to the staff report, so the ordinance would clarify the process. The mayoral selection process was previously discussed on November 21, when a request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles failed to find support on the dais.

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Council to consider community pool alternatives, meeting conduct, ambulance program review

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda for next week’s meeting covers a lot of notable items.

At the Tuesday (March 12) meeting, council will consider and/or review: Community pool alternatives; ordinance amending city code related to the conduct and administration of the City Council and order of business at council meetings; fiscal year 2022-23 report for the city operated ambulance program; appoint to councilmembers to the ad hoc committee to review FY 2024-25 community grant applications and revise fund balances for the FY 2023-24 mid-year budget modifications.

During regular business, council will review community pool alternatives.

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering courtesy of LBUSD

A preliminary rendering of the LBUSD pool

The subcommittee tasked with looking into the issue, comprised of Mayor Sue Kempf and Councilmember Bob Whalen, are recommending the council review alternatives for a future community pool facility and provide policy direction to staff to either pursue joint use of a 50-meter pool planned by the Laguna Beach Unified School District or explore options to build a new 25-meter pool at an alternate location that would be constructed, operated and maintained by the city. The council could also decide to pursue both options.

The two groups have jointly operated the 25-meter pool situated on LBUSD property by the high school since 1994. According to the terms of the joint use agreement, the city is responsible for maintaining and operating the pool 70% of the time for community aquatics programs, while LBUSD utilizes it for the remaining 30%, staff previously explained.

A new aquatic center for the school has been a hot topic at study sessions and lengthy forums for more than a year. The expansion aims to accommodate the growing demand from both LBUSD athletic programs and city-sponsored aquatics programs.

City Council and LBUSD board of education also held a special joint session and the pool was the most discussed issue.

Kempf and Whalen were appointed to the subcommittee in a 4-1 vote on October 10 (Councilmember George Weiss dissented) and asked to discuss pool options, including joint-use opportunities with LBUSD. The action also directed the ad hoc subcommittee to return to council with a list of stakeholders who are engaged in the process, through both informal meetings and public meetings, and report back the results of the discussions and data gathering.

As part of the school district’s facility master plan, a majority of the school board approved building a 50-meter pool on December 14.

According to next week’s council staff report, the district plans to proceed with design of the project in spring and recently issued a request for proposals for consulting services to assist with design and construction.

The district requested that the city indicate before March 31 the level of participation, if any, it would like to have in the design, financing and use of the expanded pool facility.

The council subcommittee met with LBUSD staff and officials on several occasions to gain an understanding of the district’s policy aspirations and programming interests. The subcommittee also met with Sensible Laguna, a local resident group, to better understand the interests of neighbors and review the data they had gathered.

Also during regular business on Tuesday, council will consider an ordinance amending city code related to the conduct and administration of the City Council and order of business at council meetings.

At the City Council Planning Workshop on January 19, councilmembers discussed potential changes to the agenda format and council meeting process and directed staff to return with a proposal.

Next week’s ordinance also makes some clean-up revisions, as the relevant chapter in city code has not been updated in decades and contains outdated terms and provisions, according to the staff report.

Policies related to the administration of council were adopted at the February 27 meeting. The items (regarding agenda order of business and policies updating procedures for councilmember placement of items on council agendas and establishing the format of meeting minutes) were on the consent calendar, but prompted lengthy discussions about each.

The proposed ordinance would add a provision related to the selection of mayor and mayor pro tem. City code is currently silent on the matter, according to the staff report, so the ordinance would clarify the process. The mayoral selection process was previously discussed on November 21, when a request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles failed to find support on the dais.

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Council appoints 12 residents to city committees, board

By SARA HALL

City Council last week made a dozen appointments to city committees and one board.

Councilmembers conducted more than 20 interviews (some applicants submitted statements or were not in attendance) on Thursday (Feb. 29) for open seats on the advisory groups.

All of the new members will serve beginning April 1. Each person will serve two years, except for those appointed to the View Restoration Committee (who will serve for one year).

Mayor Sue Kempf encouraged the residents who were not appointed to apply again in the future.

“To those of you who are not selected, don’t give up,” the council makes committee appointments throughout the year, she commented.

The Parking, Traffic, & Circulation Committee was the most popular with 10 people applying for four open seats.

The seven-member group advises council on matters pertaining to parking, traffic, circulation and traffic complaints.

The terms for four current PTC members will expire on March 31. Only two are re-applied for another term: Lauriann Meyer and Brandon Rippeon. Another eight locals applied for the committee: Lawrence Esten, Matt Hendrick, India Hynes (also applied to the Recreation Committee), Marian Keegan (also applied to the Rec Committee), Michael Rosenberg, Stewart “Andre” Shields, Mike Simmons and Simon Sproule.

During the first round, councilmembers voted unanimously for Sproule and Simmons. Meyer received three votes and was also appointed.

Following a tie between Rippeon, Hendrick and Eston, the council voted in a second round for the final seat. Rippeon received four votes and was ultimately appointed.

During his interview, Sproule mentioned his background of more than 30 years in the automotive industry and noted how things have changed since he first moved to Laguna Beach in 2001, including the rideshare market and availability of autonomous and electric vehicles.

“It was such a different world in the mobility space,” Sproule said.

There are clearly a number of challenges with the incoming and outgoing flow of traffic in Laguna Beach, he noted.

He hopes to use his experience and understanding of the wider mobility issues to help benefit the community he loves.

Simmons said he also wants to give back to the community and the PTC is where he feels he can be put to the highest and best use. His background for the past few decades has been with companies in the traffic safety industry, measuring road and driving safety, and working on making mobility safer, affordable and more sustainable.

The PTC is in his “strike zone,” Simmons said.

He wants to work on immediate issues regarding parking and traffic, and ultimately focus on longer-term efforts, like making the city more bike and pedestrian friendly with vehicles blending seamlessly into the city in a safer way.

Meyer, a long-time resident of Laguna Beach, has served on the PTC for four years. Many of the current committee members only have one year under their belt, she noted, and it’s important to have some former members to guide the new team.

“It is a committee that builds on the history and expertise of traffic laws, past solutions for neighborhood problems,” and running an effective meeting every month with a lot of citizens involved, Meyer said.

They are working on broader engagement on city parking and traffic solutions, positioning the committee as a resource with expertise, she added. The goal is to expand the PTC’s function to collaborate with the ESC and work with the city on the Complete Streets recommendation, as well as using a data-driven approach to further focus on areas of need.

The PTC is important to the lives of all residents in Laguna Beach, Rippeon noted.

“It’s a confluence of our public safety, of our local economy and our environment,” he said.

He’s worked hard to represent the interests of his fellow neighbors and the city council, Rippeon added, and is excited to serve a second term.

Click on photo for a larger image

File photo/Courtesy of Claudia Redfern

Claudia Redfern playing pickleball at Lang Park

The Recreation Committee also received a lot of interest from local residents, with seven people applying.

At the council’s January 19 planning workshop, there was a majority of support for a suggestion of reducing the size of the larger committees to no more than seven people.

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Council reviews proposed public art policies, focuses on commission authority, appeals process

By SARA HALL

City Council this week reviewed the proposed updated public art policy program and most of the discussion focused on the Arts Commission’s authority and the appeals process.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (Feb. 27) to receive a presentation on the proposed updated public art program policy and provided direction to help develop a proposed ordinance that would revise pertinent sections on the city’s municipal code to align with the changes outlined in the new policy.

They understand there is a desire to streamline and improve city government processes, align Arts Commission authority with other city commissions, and provide transparent and consolidated policies for stakeholders, said David Plettner-Saunders with Cultural Planning Group, the consulting firm tasked with developing the update.

On Oct. 5, 2021, council approved retaining CPG to draft an updated public art program policy.

Members of the Arts Commission unanimously agreed on May 10, 2021, to kick off the effort to provide more guidance and combine all public art elements into one ordinance, which would cover more than what’s currently described in city code. The process includes updates and revisions, and aims to establish specific standards for public art.

Plettner-Saunders and Linda Flynn with CPG gave a presentation and asked for direction during a public art policy update workshop on December 7. On Jan. 24, 2022, commissioners received a brief presentation about the progress on updating the policy.

In preparing the draft policy, CPG engaged stakeholders and interviewed artists, developers, architects, business owners, donors, and community and non-profit organizations to streamline processes and provide transparent and consolidated policies.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working on an update to the public art policies, “Wave Dance” by Marsh Scott is part of the Art in Public Places program

The policy recommendations are to:

Organize all programs (art in public places, murals, etc.) to be referred to as “public art program.”

Provide explicit and greater authority to the Arts Commission to fulfill its role as decision maker in relation to the public art program and asks the council to only substitute its judgment in cases where there is a departure from Oregon following the policy guidelines.

Aim for comprehensive and transparent policies by consolidating policies and making them available online as a resource for all.

Acknowledge and respect the role and importance of artists in the program.

Provide clear criteria for the selection of artists, artworks and sites.

Provide all new artwork a specific exhibition time frame as opposed to permanently accessioning them into the collection (private development projects have a 20-year minimum).

Set stronger criteria and authority to deaccess works.

Set clear criteria for donations and responsibilities for the cost of maintenance.

Allow artwork memorials honoring organizations or events and eliminates individual memorials.

Encourage financial contributions of any amount to a public art fund.

Provide that maintenance costs for donated artworks and memorials become the responsibility of the donor.

Create a policy for responsibilities on each partner to assure mutuality and workload and costs as it relates to the production of public art projects.

Limit artist to four pieces in the city collection at any one time.

Provide a well-defined appeals process.

Plettner-Saunders also highlighted some additional recommendations: Record and broadcast Arts Commission meetings; conduct a formal conservation survey of the collection and develop a full maintenance and conservation plan; establish an open pre-qualification process for artists to register their general interest in participating in the public art program; expand the practice of temporary installations; build a regular program of community education and promotion, and establish an online inventory in database for the collection.

He expanded on a few of the additional comments, noting that they would support the broader proposed policy program.

Broadcasting the meetings would make the Arts Commission’s decision-making more transparent and accessible to the public, Plettner-Saunders noted. The pre-qualification process can generate great goodwill among artists and demonstrate respect. Changing out temporary pieces is generally popular with the public. Also, promotion and education about the program can create broader benefits.

“The city has a wonderful resource in its collection and it could become better recognized and understood in the community,” he said.

The most discussed recommendation was related to the proposed appeals process.

The process allows applicants an opportunity to challenge an Arts Commission decision through a specific process and criteria, Plettner-Saunders said. Providing a well-defined appeals process can mitigate disagreements, he added.

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Housing Committee reviews Downtown Specific Plan update

By SARA HALL

The Housing and Human Services Committee (HHSC) on Wednesday (Feb. 28) reviewed the latest revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan update, Phase II.

The purpose of the HHSC meeting was to solicit feedback from committee members, explained Principal Planner Anthony Viera.

The Downtown Specific Plan is an existing document that governs land use regulation in the specific area, he noted.

Council decided in 2019 to complete the comprehensive update to the DSP in two phases, Viera explained. The first phase was adopted in 2020 and implemented in 2022, and it included streamlining of the business permitting process and new parking standards for non-residential uses. The housing, building height and parcel merger components of the DSP update were bifurcated, to be addressed separately and in coordination with the housing element update as Phase II. The housing element update was completed and certified by the state in February 2023.

The focus of Phase II is essentially to reduce development constraints on infill housing projects in Downtown, Viera said.

“We’ve kickstarted this Phase II update, it’s now in development,” he said. “This Phase II update, we’re really just in the initial stages. We’re still trying to put together what the scope of work might include.”

They key updates in Phase II of the DSP include increased building heights, relaxed density requirements and allowing for lot merger for housing projects. Changes to the urban design guidelines, allowed uses and parking requirements are also proposed.

City Council reviewed the plan and provided feedback to staff on December 12. Overall, there was support on dais for the general direction that staff was going with the project. Key comments focused on consideration of expanding the DSP boundaries, decouple parking, incentivize smaller size units rather than affordability requirements, provide 3D modeling to show the visual impact of possible changes to development standards, have the environmental impact report address development up to three stories (except in the lower Forest Avenue area) and set a specific maximum density.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working on an update to the Downtown Specific Plan

The most significant component of the Phase II update is the proposed changes to building height restrictions.

While the city is encouraging non-residential uses on the ground floor of most areas in the Downtown, an increase in the housing stock would mostly need to come from units created on the second and third floors.

Currently, the DSP, by and large, limits building heights to 12 feet, essentially single-story developments. There are currently a lot of nonconforming structures that exceed that maximum, Viera said. Staff is proposing establishing two-story and three-story height limits.

“Probably the single biggest change is considering relaxing some of those site restrictions,” Viera said. “This is really just a starting point for that conversation.”

City staff walked around the Downtown while developing these updates, he added.

“We tried to imagine what might be accommodated without compromising on the existing character of the Downtown. We do really appreciate that it’s very human-scale and pedestrian oriented,” Viera said.

As a result of the December City Council meeting, they will also be studying a more uniform three-story hybrid. It’s generally good to just have a range of options to discuss, Viera commented.

All of this will be supported by a 3D model, he noted. There will also be photo realistic renderings prepared, shade and shadow studies, and view analysis.

“I’m a big proponent of putting additional residential Downtown,” said committee member Jacquie Schaefgen.

Some of the main complaints and concerns she’s heard about this project related to maintaining the village character, Schaefgen said. But she believes that is “absolutely possible” with two- and three-story buildings. She referenced plans from other California cities that are so detailed, in terms of building mass and scale and architectural character, allays fears from residents.

“We are thinking along similar lines,” Viera replied. “We’re seeing more of this style of design guidelines now because cities now have to review certain projects under an objective lens.”

Communities are approaching objective design guidelines in different ways, he said. In certain cases, village character or small scale is regulated through a subjective design review process.

“That’s effective when we can apply that type of a review to a project,” he noted.

In other cases, they have detailed documents with standards based on pre-selected architectural styles (for example, requirements on window style or building materials if it’s a Mediterranean style).

“You still have some ability to be artistic and creative and do something individual, but you’re perhaps safeguarding against projects that are pointing to detract (from the village character),” Viera said.

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Two council meetings to cover: updated public art program; master plans for parks, recreation, facilities; committee appointments; council policies; tenancy termination noticing ordinance

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council will hold two meetings this week and cover a variety of notable items.

At the Tuesday (Feb. 27) meeting, council will consider: An updated public art program policy; a contract for the park, playground, and recreation master plan; council meeting agenda order of business; policies updating procedures for councilmember placement of items on council agendas and establishing the format of meeting minutes; a contract for the citywide safety action plan; a donation to reconstruct decorative stone planters and refinish the main entrance doors at city hall; an ordinance amendment regarding single family residential one- and two-unit developments and urban lot splits; an ordinance amending certain portions of city code and determining that no further environmental review is required and a 2024 community survey.

On Thursday (Feb. 29), council will hold a special session to hear the items that were skipped after the abrupt adjournment of the February 13 meeting due to a “disturbing incident of Zoom bombing” that disrupted the proceedings. The special meeting also has a few notable new items added to the agenda.

At the special meeting, council will consider: An ordinance related to tenancy termination noticing; consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan; a variety of appointments for six city committees; a level three risk assessment of a public tree recommended for removal and resolutions authorizing the city manager to apply for various state grant funds.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider an updated public art policy tonight (pictured: “Seabreeze: by Sukhdev Dail)

Up first during regular business at tonight’s meeting, council will consider an updated public art program policy and provide direction to help develop a proposed ordinance that would revise pertinent sections on the city’s municipal code to align with the changes outlined in the new policy.

On Oct. 5, 2021, council approved retaining Cultural Planning Group to draft an updated public art program policy.

Members of the Arts Commission unanimously agreed on May 10, 2021, to kick off the effort to provide more guidance and combine all public art elements into one ordinance, which would cover more than what’s currently described in city code. The process includes updates and revisions, and aims to establish specific standards for public art.

David Plettner-Saunders and Linda Flynn with CPG, the consulting firm tasked with reviewing and recommending updates to the policies, gave a presentation and asked for direction during a public art policy update workshop on December 7. On Jan. 24, 2022, commissioners received a brief presentation about the progress on updating the policy.

In preparing the draft policy, CPG engaged stakeholders and interviewed artists, developers, architects, business owners, donors, and community and nonprofit organizations to streamline processes and provide transparent and consolidated policies.

The policy recommendations will:

–Organize all programs (art in public places, murals, etc.) to be referred to as “public art program.”

–Provide explicit and greater authority to the Arts Commission to fulfill its role as decision maker in relation to the public art program and asks the council to only substitute its judgment in cases where there is a departure from Oregon following the policy guidelines.

–Aim for comprehensive and transparent policies by consolidating policies and making them available online as a resource for all.

–Acknowledge and respect the role and importance of artists in the program.

–Provide clear criteria for the selection of artists, artworks and sites.

–Provide all new artwork a specific exhibition time frame as opposed to permanently accessioning them into the collection (private development projects have a 20-year minimum).

–Set stronger criteria and authority to de-access works.

–Set clear criteria for donations and responsibilities for the cost of maintenance.

–Allow artwork memorials honoring organizations or events and eliminates individual memorials.

–Encourage financial contributions of any amount to a public art fund.

–Provide that maintenance costs for donated artworks and memorials become the responsibility of the donor.

–Create a policy for responsibilities on each partner to assure mutuality and workload and costs as it relates to the production of public art projects.

–Limit artist to four pieces in the city collection at any one time.

–Provide a well-defined appeals process.

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Two council meetings to cover: updated public art program; master plans for parks, recreation, facilities; committee appointments; council policies; tenancy termination noticing ordinance

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council will hold two meetings next week and cover a variety of notable items.

At the Tuesday (Feb. 27) meeting, council will consider: An updated public art program policy; a contract for the park, playground, and recreation master plan; council meeting agenda order of business; policies updating procedures for councilmember placement of items on council agendas and establishing the format of meeting minutes; a contract for the citywide safety action plan; a donation to reconstruct decorative stone planters and refinish the main entrance doors at city hall; an ordinance amendment regarding single family residential one- and two-unit developments and urban lot splits; an ordinance amending certain portions of city code and determining that no further environmental review is required and a 2024 community survey.

On Thursday (Jan. 29), council will hold a special session to hear the items that were skipped after the abrupt adjournment of the February 13 meeting due to a “disturbing incident of “Zoom bombing” that disrupted the proceedings. The special meeting also has a few notable new items added to the agenda.

At the special meeting, council will consider: An ordinance related to tenancy termination noticing; consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan; a variety of appointments for six city committees; a level three risk assessment of a public tree recommended for removal and resolutions authorizing the city manager to apply for various state grant funds.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider an updated public art policy on Tuesday (pictured: “Seabreeze: by Sukhdev Dail)

Up first during regular business at the Tuesday council meeting, council will consider an updated public art program policy and provide direction to help develop a proposed ordinance that would revise pertinent sections on the city’s municipal code to align with the changes outlined in the new policy.

On Oct. 5, 2021, council approved retaining Cultural Planning Group to draft an updated public art program policy.

Members of the Arts Commission unanimously agreed on May 10, 2021, to kick off the effort to provide more guidance and combine all public art elements into one ordinance, which would cover more than what’s currently described in city code. The process includes updates and revisions, and aims to establish specific standards for public art.

David Plettner-Saunders and Linda Flynn with CPG, the consulting firm tasked with reviewing and recommending updates to the policies, gave a presentation and asked for direction during a public art policy update workshop on December 7. On Jan. 24, 2022, commissioners received a brief presentation about the progress on updating the policy.

In preparing the draft policy, CPG engaged stakeholders and interviewed artists, developers, architects, business owners, donors, and community and nonprofit organizations to streamline processes and provide transparent and consolidated policies.

The policy recommendations will:

–Organize all programs (art in public places, murals, etc.) to be referred to as “public art program.”

–Provide explicit and greater authority to the Arts Commission to fulfill its role as decision maker in relation to the public art program and asks the council to only substitute its judgment in cases where there is a departure from Oregon following the policy guidelines.

–Aim for comprehensive and transparent policies by consolidating policies and making them available online as a resource for all.

–Acknowledge and respect the role and importance of artists in the program.

–Provide clear criteria for the selection of artists, artworks and sites.

–Provide all new artwork a specific exhibition time frame as opposed to permanently accessioning them into the collection (private development projects have a 20-year minimum).

–Set stronger criteria and authority to de-access works.

–Set clear criteria for donations and responsibilities for the cost of maintenance.

–Allow artwork memorials honoring organizations or events and eliminates individual memorials.

–Encourage financial contributions of any amount to a public art fund.

–Provide that maintenance costs for donated artworks and memorials become the responsibility of the donor.

–Create a policy for responsibilities on each partner to assure mutuality and workload and costs as it relates to the production of public art projects.

–Limit artist to four pieces in the city collection at any one time.

–Provide a well-defined appeals process.

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Council agenda covers: Facilities Master Plan, committee appointments, tattoo service appeal, tree risk assessment

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting covers a lot of notable items.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, Feb. 13) council will consider and/or hear: Consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan; a variety of appointments for six city committees; an appeal of the approval of a tattoo body art service component at an existing art gallery and a level three risk assessment of a public tree recommended for removal.

During regular business, council will consider a consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan.

If approved, the action will authorize the city manager to execute a consultant services agreement with Griffin Structures, Inc., for $760,000, to develop the comprehensive plan, along with future project related expenses and change orders not-to-exceed $40,000.

Each councilmember is also being asked to provide up to two names to participate in the Facility Master Plan Community Working Group to the city clerk by March 12.

Council will also consider the Facility Master Plan Ad Hoc Committee additional recommendations to:

–Direct staff to take an aggressive approach to maximize utilization at the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center.

–Direct staff to present to the council in spring a plan to incorporate a new fire station #1 at the village entrance and how this change aligns with the fire department standard of cover and the proposed parking structure.

–Direct staff to work with Griffin Structures Inc. to develop a scope of work to evaluate the viability of public-private partnerships at the village entrance that includes a program to solicit such partnerships and next steps and present the scope of work and at a future council meeting for approval.

At their Feb. 21, 2023, meeting, councilmembers approved the priorities they set at their annual planning workshop and directed staff to work with a council subcommittee on the development of the scope of work and the procurement process for the facilities master plan effort.

The facilities master plan aims to provide the city with information regarding current and future facility needs and establishes a framework for the orderly growth of city services, administration and community programs, according to the staff report for next week’s agenda item. The goal of a FMP is to evaluate the condition of city facilities, assess their ability to meet the needs of current services, anticipate growth and future service delivery requirements, analyze gaps in providing services and create an action plan to address these issues. When the plan is finalized, it will provide recommendations with cost estimates to guide future decisions, timelines and steps forward in delivering city services.

Council approved the scope of services on May 16 and city staff began the RFP procurement process. The city received three bids and after the evaluation process concluded, the panel unanimously selected Griffin Structures, Inc., as the highest qualified consultant.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council will consider a number of appointments to various committees tonight

Also tonight, most of the items during regular business will be the interviews and appointments to city committees.

The council will make 12 appointments for six committees. All of the new members will serve a two-year term beginning April 1 and running through March 31, 2026.

The Parking, Traffic, & Circulation Committee was the most popular with 10 people applying for four open seats.

The seven-member group advises council on matters pertaining to parking, traffic, circulation and traffic complaints.

The terms for four current PTC members will expire on March 31. Only two are re-applying for another term: Lauriann Meyer and Brandon Rippeon. Another eight locals applied for the committee: Lawrence Esten, Matt Hendrick, India Hynes (also applied to the Recreation Committee), Marian Keegan (also applied to the Rec Committee), Michael Rosenberg, Stewart “Andre” Shields, Mike Simmons and Simon Sproule.

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Commission OKs bike lane along Park Avenue, deviates from staff, directs green paint as additional safety measure

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week unanimously approved adding bike lanes and reconfiguring vehicle lanes on Park Avenue. However, commissioners deviated from city staff’s recommendation and additionally directed that the entire bike path be painted green, despite public works contending that it wasn’t in the allotted budget and that staff may have to reconsider the project with that added condition and potentially appeal the decision to City Council.

Commissioners voted 4-0 on Wednesday (Feb. 7) in support of the project, which is located for the stretch of street between Wendt Terrace and Alta Laguna Boulevard. Chair Pro Tem Steve Kellenberg recused himself due to his residence being located within 500 feet of the project.

The public works department requested a coastal development permit to implement mobility improvements on Park Avenue, including implementation of a dedicated bike lane, reconfiguration of vehicle travel lanes and on-street parking modifications. As proposed, the project includes striping and signage for the creation of a bike lane six feet wide along the full corridor with adjacent parking lanes eight feet in width. Vehicle lane widths will vary along the street segment and there is ample and underutilized roadway width to accommodate the new bike lane while maintaining most of the existing on-street parking.

Most of the hour and a half discussion on Wednesday focused on painting the bike lanes green, which was suggested by both commissioners and members of the public. It was debated by public works staff primarily because of the potential cost and possible maintenance issues.

Green paint is commonly used as a measure to increase visibility of the designated path for cyclists, aimed at improving safety and decreasing the risk of collisions between bikes and vehicles. Proponents of using the color for the Park Avenue project noted that it would help distinguish the bike path and separate it from motorists on the street. This is particularly important for this location because young students ride their bikes to and from Thurston Middle School and drivers often speed down the hill and around a sharp S-curve.

The green paths really do improve the visual separation of the bike lanes from the motor lanes, said Commissioner Jorg Dubin. It’s important to do anything they can to make it safer for everybody, he added, and it’s pretty obvious that something needs to happen on this street.

“The number one thing that we are supposed to be looking out for is public safety and since the e-bike thing has exploded and lots of kids are using them, I just think anything we can do – outside of a physical barrier – to enhance the safety is something that we should impose on this project,” Dubin said.

Dubin and several other commissioners preferred a separated bike lane, but the idea was dismissed due to issues related to interference with parking, vehicles needing to pull over for an emergency, and rumble strips or raised markers causing problems for cyclists.

Safety is the top priority, all the commissioners agreed.

There has been a proliferation of e-bikes over the past few years, noted Commission Chair Ken Sadler, and the use of these type of bikes has exploded with local kids. There is plenty of room on the road for these proposed improvements, which would make a notable difference for the cyclists on this street, he added.

“We need to make it as absolutely safe as possible for the bike-riding students,” he said.

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

A photo of a cyclist on Park Avenue with a rendering of additional bike lane signage

Responding to a commissioner question, Associate Civil Engineer Josh McDonald noted that green for the entire length of the bike lane is not included in the proposed plan and staff would need to look at the project again if that’s how the commission wanted to move forward.

“Staff would need further analysis for the green paint to extend the full length of the bike lane. We would not be able to move forward with the project if approved as such,” McDonald said. “That would not be something that we’d want to install with this project.”

However, they could move the project along if the paint was just at the intersection and each delineated bike lane pavement markings, he added.

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Council agenda covers: Facilities Master Plan, committee appointments, tattoo service appeal, tree risk assessment

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council’s agenda for next week’s meeting covers a lot of notable items.

At the Tuesday (Feb. 13) meeting, council will consider and/or hear: Consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan; a variety of appointments for six city committees; an appeal of the approval of a tattoo body art service component at an existing art gallery and a level three risk assessment of a public tree recommended for removal.

During regular business, council will consider a consultant services agreement for the development of a facilities master plan.

If approved, the action will authorize the city manager to execute a consultant services agreement with Griffin Structures, Inc., for $760,000, to develop the comprehensive plan, along with future project related expenses and change orders not-to-exceed $40,000.

Each councilmember is also being asked to provide up to two names to participate in the Facility Master Plan Community Working Group to the city clerk by March 12.

Council will also consider the Facility Master Plan Ad Hoc Committee additional recommendations to:

–Direct staff to take an aggressive approach to maximize utilization at the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center.

–Direct staff to present to the council in spring a plan to incorporate a new fire station #1 at the village entrance and how this change aligns with the fire department standard of cover and the proposed parking structure.

–Direct staff to work with Griffin Structures Inc. to develop a scope of work to evaluate the viability of public-private partnerships at the village entrance that includes a program to solicit such partnerships and next steps and present the scope of work and at a future council meeting for approval.

At their Feb. 21, 2023, meeting, councilmembers approved the priorities they set at their annual planning workshop and directed staff to work with a council subcommittee on the development of the scope of work and the procurement process for the facilities master plan effort.

The facilities master plan aims to provide the city with information regarding current and future facility needs and establishes a framework for the orderly growth of city services, administration and community programs, according to the staff report for next week’s agenda item. The goal of a FMP is to evaluate the condition of city facilities, assess their ability to meet the needs of current services, anticipate growth and future service delivery requirements, analyze gaps in providing services and create an action plan to address these issues. When the plan is finalized, it will provide recommendations with cost estimates to guide future decisions, timelines and steps forward in delivering city services.

Council approved the scope of services on May 16 and city staff began the RFP procurement process. The city received three bids and after the evaluation process concluded, the panel unanimously selected Griffin Structures, Inc., as the highest qualified consultant.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council will consider a number of appointments to various committees next week

Also on Tuesday, most of the items during regular business will be the interviews and appointments to city committees.

The council will make 12 appointments for six committees. All of the new members will serve a two-year term beginning April 1 and running through March 31, 2026.

The Parking, Traffic, & Circulation Committee was the most popular with 10 people applying for four open seats.

The seven-member group advises council on matters pertaining to parking, traffic, circulation and traffic complaints.

The terms for four current PTC members will expire on March 31. Only two are re-applying for another term: Lauriann Meyer and Brandon Rippeon. Another eight locals applied for the committee: Lawrence Esten, Matt Hendrick, India Hynes (also applied to the Recreation Committee), Marian Keegan (also applied to the Rec Committee), Michael Rosenberg, Stewart “Andre” Shields, Mike Simmons and Simon Sproule.

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Interim city manager comments on council priorities, CM recruitment, department head changes

By SARA HALL

A community meeting this week focused on some recent city staff changes and highlighted City Council’s priorities.

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee held their monthly meeting via Zoom on Thursday (Feb. 1) with Interim City Manager Sean Joyce as the featured speaker. About 20 people attended online.

During his comments, Joyce noted the city manager recruitment effort currently underway, the recent departure of a department head, and highlighted the City Council’s recent planning workshop and the priorities they identified.

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Interim City Manager Sean Joyce

Joyce was appointed to his temporary role in September. He’s really enjoyed his time at Laguna Beach, he said at the morning meeting on Thursday. He recognized that he came into the situation under “pretty challenging circumstances” as former City Manager Shohreh Dupuis left. In his approximately five months on the job, he’s loved the work and found the staff and council to be agreeable to his suggestions and ideas for improvement. The city has been driven by very capable leaders over the years, Joyce said, but he wants to see it transition into a more modern organization and even more customer service driven.

On Thursday, Joyce reported that the council interviewed two finalists on Saturday (Jan. 27), as noticed in a special closed session. They are proceeding with the outcome of that second interview and Joyce expects the council to approve a contract with the ultimately successful candidate later this month. State law allows it to be approved only at regularly scheduled council meetings, which would be February 13 or 27. If that happens, he estimates a new city manager could start around April 1.

Answering a question from an attendee, Joyce briefly addressed the recent departure of Marc Wiener, the former community development director for the city.

“For any of you who are employers present, I would no more speak about the performance of any individual than you would about any employee with whom you work,” he said. “It’s important to him that his departure not be mischaracterized or otherwise characterized and I want to respect that.”

Wiener made a difference at the city and has a number of strengths, Joyce added, he’s a good person who made good relationships with others. Joyce wished Wiener the best and said he supports him in his next endeavor.

“We are now focused on a transition within the department and will very soon start a recruitment for his replacement,” Joyce said.

Joyce also noted that the appointment of Public Works Director Mark McAvoy as an interim replacement was an unusual move considering the secondary in the department would be the recently hired Community Development Assistant Director Matthew Schneider.

“He’s been here such a short time; I just didn’t yet have the confidence to name him acting (CD director) and I readily acknowledge that moving the public works director to temporarily oversee the community development department is unorthodox – I get it. I just have a relationship and a trust with McAvoy that allows me to communicate more efficiently and know that and have confidence in his executive leadership,” Joyce said.

He explained that prior to this switch he had very little interaction with Schneider, since he was so new to the city, but has since been working with him every day. Schneider is good at what he does and has a good track record, Joyce added.

The idea is to get McAvoy back to public works as soon as possible. McAvoy is proud of his work in that department and has no interest as a candidate for the community development position, Joyce confirmed.

Joyce also discussed the City Council’s January 19 planning workshop, which included a discussion of areas for improvement and a report of more than 60 policy initiatives and larger projects.

While that’s too long of a list for staff to treat every single item as a top priority, they can steadily be “grinding away” on each initiative that “the council wants to do to make the community even better than it already is,” Joyce said. Meanwhile, they focus the majority of their efforts on tackling the councilmembers’ key concerns.

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Council reduces pickleball hours at Lang Park, encourages quiet paddles, directs study of alternate court sites

By SARA HALL

City Council last week unanimously agreed to reduce pickleball hours at Lang Park, encourage use of quieter paddles, and directed staff to study four alternative locations of both new and converted courts.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (Jan. 23) to: Reduce the hours of operation of the Lang Park pickleball courts (closed Mondays; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to dusk on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to dusk on Sundays) effective March 1; encourage and promote use of quiet paddles and balls, and mandate their use in city-sponsored classes; purchase an initial order of 50 quiet pickleball paddles (at a 35% discount negotiated with the manufacturer) as to sell at-cost to pickleball players; direct staff to work with the property manager of the adjacent residential units to incorporate additional sound mitigation efforts, including multi-pane windows, and pursue alternate locations for more courts, both new and/or converted.

The potential pickleball sites staff will study are: Moulton Meadows Park, at the far northeast end of the park bordering the county property; Alta Laguna Park, on the grass area behind the existing courts and/or converting another existing tennis court to three new pickleball courts and the inland side of Aliso Beach Park. This action directed staff to proceed with an environmental analysis of pickleball courts at the selected locations and appropriate $80,000 from the general fund balance to perform the necessary analysis.

All five councilmembers agreed that there is a demand for pickleball courts in the city, it’s just a question of where to put them.

Mayor Sue Kempf visited Alta Laguna Park during several recent weekends and found it consistently packed with pickleball players, both young and old.

“We need way more courts, we are not even close to having enough to meet the demand,” Kempf said. “I do think we need to figure out where we can add more courts that make sense.”

When looking for a solution, it’s important to step back and consider what the problem is, said Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi. There are “two buckets of problems” that are at play in this situation, he added.

On one side there is a high demand for pickleball in the community, he said, and it’s clear that the city needs more courts.

Even if he could wave a magic wand and add more courts at Alta Laguna or Moulton Meadows, that wouldn’t solve the real problem, which is South Laguna residents’ access to pickleball and consideration for the neighbors.

“I’m not in support of getting rid of the pickleball for South Laguna residents because that’s what we would effectively be doing,” if the courts at Lang Park were removed, Rounaghi said.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pickleball players at Alta Laguna

Although others noted concern that the current location for pickleball at Lang Park is not appropriate so close to homes.

“I still don’t think it’s the right location for pickleball. If you were starting fresh, you would never put them there, 25 feet from a residence,” said Councilmember Bob Whalen.

Whalen liked the idea for new paddles, but more needs to be done and he supported the reduced hours, additional sound barriers, and potential alternative locations.

“There’s more than just paddle noise, there’s other noises associated with the playing that we’ve heard,” he said.

Councilmember George Weiss wants the local pickleball players to be happy, but it’s too close to residences, he emphasized. There needs to be a compromised solution.

“I’m for a compromised solution,” Weiss said. “For more pickleball, I’m for that, I want to satisfy the demand, but appropriately.”

Councilmembers were split on whether Moulton Meadows was a good spot for a court.

Kempf did not support converting one or more of the tennis courts at Moulton. There are parking and other issues that would cause a problem and get people agitated, she said. Although, ultimately, she agreed to direct staff to look into the potential of a new court at the far northeast end of the grassy area of the park.

The space at the end of the grass is approximately 200 feet away from residences, Weiss estimated, and it’s “hardly ever used.”

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Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce installs 2024 Board Members

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi along with members of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce gathered at Skyloft Laguna Beach to officially welcome the 2024 Chamber of Commerce Board.

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Photos courtesy of Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce

Board Installation – (L-R) Reinhard Neubert, Valerie Lynn, Julie Laughton, Colleen Dillaway (Chair-Elect), Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold (Chairman), Hasty Honarkar (Secretary), Mark Meisberger (Vice-Chair) and Alex Rounaghi

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(L-R) Fred Pasquariello, Erin Slattery, Colleen Dillaway, Valerie Lynn and Angie Bystrom

The swearing in ceremony was performed by Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi and every member of the chamber board was in attendance, including Chairman of the Board Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, Chair-Elect Colleen Dillaway, Vice Chair Mark Meisberger, Treasurer Jeffrey Redeker, Secretary Hasty Honarkar, Directors RJ Bear, Julie Laughton, Valerie Lynn, Gretchen McConnell, Reinhard Neubert and Doug Vogel.

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Ambassador of the Year, Candice Henderson

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(L-R) Julie Laughton, Joy Dittberner and Dru Murphy

The highlight of the evening was when the chamber presented the Ambassador of the Year award to Candice Henderson. “Candice exemplifies volunteerism. At the Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival event she’s not just a volunteer she is a Rockstar. She has a take no prisoners way of managing a day which is always filled with unexpected challenges,” said Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold. “Candice Henderson is a much-appreciated community member. We are honored to have her as an ambassador.”

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(L-R) Reinhard Neubert, Valerie Lynn, Julie Laughton, Colleen Dillaway (Chair-Elect), Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold (Chairman), Hasty Honarkar (Secretary), Mark Meisberger (Vice-Chair), Councilmember Alex Rounaghi, Jeff Redeker (Treasurer), RJ Bear, Gretchen McConnell and Doug Vogel

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(L-R) Laura Curtin Ross, Jennifer Halbert, Pamela Knudsen, Angie Bystrom and Ed Steinfeld

Policy Analyst Matt Kern from Senator Dave Min’s office attended and presented certificates to Candice Henderson and new board members, RJ Bear and Gretchen McConnell.

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(L-R) Susan Denton and Lynn Jax

Skyloft Laguna Beach provided delicious appetizers and a beautiful venue.

For more information about the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, go to www.lagunabeachchamber.org.

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Council pauses decision on permanent Promenade concept, forms ad hoc to study constraints, agrees to hold design competition

By SARA HALL

When presented with only two concept options for the permanent Promenade on Forest, City Council this week unanimously decided to hit the pause button.

Instead of picking one of the designs presented, Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (Jan. 23) to form an ad hoc committee to study the scope and constraints of the project and then hold a design competition to allow more firms to submit ideas for a more creative, resident-focused pedestrian plaza.

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi made a motion to affirm the council’s support of an idea of a pedestrian plaza, appoint an ad hoc committee of Mayor Sue Kempf and Councilmember Mark Orgill to work with staff and the consultant with the goal of identifying the project scope and constraints and set up a process for a design competition. Councilmembers also agreed to add that they are tasked to return to the full council within 90 days. After that work is done, there will be a robust public process, he added.

“This is the way to really get us to the visionary, world-class Promenade that we want,” Rounaghi said.

The concepts presented feel a bit “formulaic,” he commented, with strategically placed art pieces and other features. It should be a “piece of art” and a more cohesively designed concept.

“The Promenade is something that is exciting, so now it’s the question of ‘How do we not make this a cookie-cutter thing?’ We don’t want this to be something that you would find at a mall in one of the cities surrounding us. We want this to be really consistent with what Laguna is all about, which is our artistic identity,” Rounaghi said.

He also reiterated an idea from the public to call it simply “The Forest.”

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council formed an ad hoc committee this week to study the scope and constraints of a permanent Promenade on Forest

Councilmember Bob Whalen agreed with a number of public speakers who emphasized that more work needs to be done before choosing a design concept. There were also a lot of points made at the Planning Commission meeting that still need to be addressed, he said, and that needs to occur before they choose a design.

Just a few of the issues that need to be studied include: Analyzing the utilities and how that would impact design; an arborist report on the existing trees; looking into the state Alcoholic Beverage Control rules and regulations and how that might limit design, and consideration for the local retailers (like including movable bollards at the end of the street so deliveries can be made during certain hours).

He also agreed with others that the aim is to preserve as many of the existing trees as possible. Most councilmembers concurred that if there are damaged or diseased trees, those should be removed.

It’s also evolved to the point they need to decide whether or not it will be designed to include the curbs and gutters or not, he added. Whalen’s viewpoint is that they don’t have them and instead create a plan with bollards at either end that could allow vehicular access, if they wanted, on certain occasions.

All of these are the preliminary issues that drive the design, Whalen said.

“I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re choosing one or the other these designs,” he said.

“All of that background, nitty gritty work” needs to happen at the subcommittee level, which can then report back to the Planning Commission and then City Council, Whalen advised.

The smaller group can look into potential limitations that the Promenade would be required to operate within and lay out the framework that it needs to be designed within, he explained, because there are “real-world constraints.”

City Attorney Megan Garibaldi noted that the creation of the ad hoc committee would be brought back on the consent calendar to be confirmed.

Whalen suggested holding a design competition that would allow multiple firms, including the current consulting company, to submit concept proposals.

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Council planning workshop covers priorities, changes on agenda format, meeting process

By SARA HALL

The Laguna Beach City Council Planning Workshop last week covered the usual annual priority-setting session, but also included discussion and direction for staff on areas of improvement and potential changes to the agenda format and council meeting process.

Councilmembers spent more than six hours on January 19 discussing priorities, policy initiatives, city finances and importance projects. Council and staff went through a list of 62 policy initiatives and larger projects.

After reviewing the long list of priorities and action items, Councilmember Bob Whalen commended staff on their work and effort to move projects along.

It was excellent work and fun, agreed Mayor Sue Kempf.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council discussed priorities for 2024 and areas for improvement during a workshop last week

The meeting also covered a number of observations and suggestions for potential improvement by Interim City Manager Sean Joyce.

In his written report, Joyce noted that there are several opportunities identified “to address lingering issues hindering operational efficiency while creating a path to more consistent application of City Council and administrative policies.”

Last week, he recalled that when he was first brought on board, he was directed to share any ideas on how to improve and “do what we do even better tomorrow than we do today.”

“That’s a fun part of what I get to do, is to raise the bar and work with others to do just the same,” Joyce said.

He hasn’t been met with any resistance and the group has been very receptive to his suggestions, he added.

Joyce had a list of 10 items as potential areas for improvement.

First up, he asked if the policy related to how agenda items are added by councilmembers is meeting the council’s expectations. It was an open-ended question for councilmembers.

“Is what you’re doing working?” he asked.

Currently, a resolution city council adopted in 2022 lays out the method regarding how a councilmember can request an item to be placed on the agenda. According to the policy, after a councilmember asks to agendize an item, the city manager determines if adequate staff resources are available to provide an analysis prior to it being placed on the agenda, and, if so, assigns staff to prepare a report for council consideration within 60 to 90 days of submitting the request. If staff cannot provide an analysis prior to the meeting, the initiative will be presented to council without it within 30 to 60 days of submitting the request, and if a majority of the council supports committing staff resources to prepare an analysis, then it will be placed on a future agenda.

They aren’t strictly adhering to the policy, Joyce noted.

Joyce also shared some examples of items that were urgent and placed on the agenda under his authority, as well as some alternative methods that other area cities use.

“The current policy doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi.

It essentially puts the city manager in a position of having to make judgement calls on policy decisions, he added, which is not the role of the city manager.

Rounaghi suggested that a councilmember tells the city attorney they would like something on a future agenda and at the beginning of the following meeting the topic is placed under council comments and if there’s support from a majority of the council for staff analyzing the item, it will be agendized for a future meeting.

Whalen doesn’t have an issue with the current policy, but also wasn’t opposed to changing it. He also cautioned his fellow councilmembers about being judicious with how often they request a new item, considering their current workload and priorities for the year.

Councilmember George Weiss countered that the role of councilmembers is to initiate ideas that may or may not turn into policy. They just have to differentiate between a discussion item and an item that takes up staff time.

Answering a question about if the item would include public comment, City Attorney Megan Garibaldi said if it’s a separately agendized item, even if it’s only to seek council direction on whether or not to bring the item back with a full staff report, they still have to take public comment if the topic is listed. According to the Brown Act, there has to be the opportunity to comment on an agendized item.

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