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Commission reviews proposed fixes to Downtown Plan, Landscape element


Planning Commissioners unanimously recommended at Wednesday’s meeting to sunder the Civic/Arts District, designed to strengthen Laguna’s claim to be an arts colony.

The recommendation will be included in commission-recommended revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan, subject to City Council approval. Proposed revisions to the plan’s six sections by consultant MIG are under review by the commission, compared to recommendations by staff, public groups and individuals. 

“The word civic means government to most people,” said Hasty Honarkar, who supported the split. 

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Planning commission recommends that the civic area is not part of a combined civic/arts district

An outer boundary for the separate arts district was left undecided. Commissioner Anne Johnson favored extending it to include the primary campus of the Laguna College of Arts and Design. 

“It would be folly to exclude the college,” said Johnson, but she was outnumbered.

Even the Art District Ad Hoc Committee, which included LCAD President Jonathan Burke, failed to sway the commission majority.    

“LCAD is its own arts district,” said commission Chair Susan McLintock Whitin.

Commissioners Ken Sadler and Roger McErlane also opposed the inclusion of LCAD, pending a report by staff with suggested options on district boundaries at the next hearing on the district.   

However, everybody agreed on the stated goal of enhancing Laguna’s reputation as an art colony.

“It is critical for the arts district to have its own identity,” said former planning commissioner Norm Grossman.

Grossman spoke on behalf of a more recently organized, broad-based, ad hoc committee providing public input on revisions to the downtown plan, which includes Laguna Canyon. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Discussion centered on the extent of the Arts District

“The canyon is different than downtown,” said Penny Milne, president of the Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization.

“The Downtown Specific Plan should not determine the character of the Arts District,” Milne said. 

McErlane disagreed. 

“Distinguishing it from the downtown is a mistake,” he said.

Wednesday’s revisions will be reviewed at a later date by the commission. 


Scenic Highways Element

The Planning Commission unanimously supported sub-committee recommendations for changes to the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element in the city’s General Plan.

Recommendations included reducing the eight topics to three, [as] Community Development Assistant Director Jim Pechous said [eight] would unduly burden staff. 

The commission also recommended adding a matrix that summarizes policy and action items at the beginning of each chapter, moving some topics to other elements, changing highways to read corridors, and complying with findings of then-Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse. 

Commission recommendations did not include incorporating the languishing Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document into the element – a blow to landscape architects Ann Christoph and Bob Borthwick, city-appointed writers of the document with Greg Vail after the 1993 fire – and its supporters.

“I am shocked and appalled at what is going on here,” said Barbara Metzger. “We have waited 25 years for this to be made an element.”

Borthwick and Christoph both spoke in favor of including the document in the element, describing it as organized the way the commission wants the element to be organized.

“The sub-committee found the revisions proposed (for the element) too difficult to read and understand,” said sub-committee member McErlane. “Putting the resource document into the existing [element] just makes it messier.”

McErlane asked staff to prepare an evaluation of the time and costs to divide the element into three sections. 

The hearing was continued to Feb 21, as requested by Village Laguna President Johanna Felder and CANDO President Milne to allow their groups to have time to review the proposed changes.

Revisions available for review

The current Downtown Specific Plan, the proposed revisions and the Scenic Highways Element and proposed revisions are available for review at

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