Council agenda covers: Aliso Beach fire pits, affordable housing trust fund proposals, property lease agreements and budget workshop

By SARA HALL

The Laguna Beach City Council has a packed and varied agenda next week.

At the Tuesday (May 14) meeting, council will consider: Taking action regarding certain activities on South Laguna beaches, including propane and wood burning fire pits; sending letters of intent for proposals that responded to the city’s local housing trust fund notice of funding availability for affordable housing projects; reassignment and extension of the Alice Court ground lease; lease agreement with the Girl Scouts of Orange County for continued use of property; ordinance updating the city’s campaign contribution regulations and accepting the donation of two electric Rivian R1S vehicles for marine safety use for three years. Earlier in the day, the council will also hold a budget workshop.

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Photo by Kindel Media/Pexels

The city is working on re-installing wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach (a similar fire pit is pictured)

During regular business, council will discuss and take action regarding certain activities on South Laguna beaches, including propane and wood burning fire pits, signage for naturally occurring hazards, marine safety operations and public works maintenance operations. The item will also introduce the first reading of the fire pit ordinance.

Regarding fire pits, staff is recommending council specify the number (up to seven) of wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach, identify the specific locations for each fire pit and direct staff to install such fire pits as expeditiously as possible. Staff is also requesting to return at a future council meeting with a resolution to memorialize the number and locations of the city-designated fire pits at Aliso Beach, and any additional operational restrictions.

If approved, the action will also appropriate $20,000 from the South Laguna Fund for the purchase of the wood-burning fire pits.

Related to marine safety operations, staff is recommending extending the trial period for the skimboard area for an additional 12 months until June 1, 2025. The item is also proposing to appropriate $450,000 from the South Laguna Fund to support ongoing beach maintenance operations in South Laguna for fiscal year 2023-24.

Staff is also recommending council authorize the city manager to amend an agreement with Spectrum Facility Maintenance, in a form approved by the city attorney, to increase the total annual contract amount by $580,000.

On March 1, 2023, the city assumed ownership of and responsibility for South Laguna beaches, including Aliso Beach parking lot and concession facility, from Orange County.

During an update to city Council on May 16, 2023, staff addressed a number of potential services and improvements, including fire pits. Council directed staff to return in October with more information.

The county previously maintained between four and 10 fire pits at Aliso Beach for public use on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the fire pits were removed, taken out of service during COVID, or buried or washed away during storm events before the city took over control, city staff previously noted. The remaining fire pits were removed by the county during the transition of ownership.

As part of the city taking ownership of the beaches, the city also assumed a lease with 10th Hole Associates, Inc., which leases the restaurant and concession facility at Aliso Beach (currently operated as Lost Pier). The tenant has a program that allows members of the public to rent portable propane fire pits on a first-come, first-served basis in the designated sandy area adjacent to the building.

Instead of creating a rental program for the city, which will create additional staff demands and processes for which the city is not currently equipped, staff is proposing a minor amendment to the city’s fire code. The change would clarify that portable propane fire pits – which are otherwise prohibited from use on the beach – are allowed in the designated area, consistent with the prior use of the property.

On October 24, council unanimously agreed to move forward with the process of installing wood-burning fire pits at Aliso Beach, but highlighted that there are still several issues to work out (rules, management, staff supervision, etc.) before it returned to them for the final decision. Councilmembers directed staff to proceed with the appropriate coastal development permit process for purposes of installing the fire pits.

Also during the October meeting, and included in the proposed ordinance being considered now, staff recommended the city allow the use of wood-burning fire pits by the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Although there were some stipulations, including that there is a “responsible person of at least 18 years of age is at least 25 feet from the burning pit.” They also recommended that only natural wood, charcoal and fire logs are used (burning trash or debris is prohibited). The use of the wood-burning fire pits would be prohibited during no burn days or red flag days.

The city currently prohibits building, setting, kindling, making, or maintaining a fire in any public parks or beaches except in city-designated barbecues, picnic stoves and fire pits provided for such purposes.

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Staff also recommended, both now and in October, an amendment to the city’s municipal code to allow the continued use of the fire pits at Aliso Beach subject to additional regulations to comply with the South Coast AQMD regulations and the American with Disabilities Act, as well as to address local conditions at Aliso Beach.

SCAQMD passed a rule in 2013 which, in part, controls open burning at different locations, including the beach. The rule prohibits a person from “beach burning,” which means “any recreational, ceremonial, or open burning conducted in any public coastal area marked by an accumulation of sand,” unless certain conditions are met. To be allowed, the air quality forecast must be at or below specific level (PM2.5 AQI of 100 or less), and beach burning devices must be at least 700 feet from residences and 100 feet from each other (or at least 50 feet apart from one another, if there are no more than 15 devices per contiguous beach area within the city’s boundaries).

According to the SCAQMD rule, beach burning is also not allowed on a “no burn day.” The city’s proposed ordinance has been drafted to include compliance with these requirements. The ordinance also provides the fire code official with the authority to identify conditions under which beach burning would be prohibited.

On January 17, the Planning Commission unanimously approved a coastal development permit for the city to re-install seven wood-burning fire pits in the sand at Aliso Beach.

Answering a commissioner question at the January Planning Commission meeting, City Attorney Alisha Winterswyk confirmed that despite that the fire pits were removed they are still considered a historic use for the site, in terms of the California Environmental Quality Act exemption for the proposed re-install project.

According to the staff report for next week’s item, the new replacement wood-burning fire pits will have the same purpose and capacity as the prior ones. They can be moved and relocated for anticipated storm events or tidal changes. They will be similar to those used by the City of Newport Beach; are constructed of concrete, have an outer diameter of five feet, an overall height of one foot and cost approximately $2,000 each.

Staff also explained in the report that police and marine safety staff will work together to monitor public use and mitigate possible issues with the fire pits at Aliso Beach. The city’s public works department will maintain the fire pits, removing excess materials as needed.

The report also notes that between March 1, 2023 and February 29, marine safety staff performed 2,383 ocean rescues, responded to 2,463 medical calls for service and made 193,901 preventative contacts in South Laguna.

Regarding signage, city staff installed municipal code and marine protected area signs at coastal access points, replacing previously existing directional, educational and parking signs that the county used. Warning signs were also placed on the beach and rocks to warn visitors about the potential for naturally occurring hazards. Staff is working with the California Coastal Commission to identify if these signs are above or below the mean high tide line and to provide a signage plan that includes a Spanish version. Once completed, the city’s coastal development permit application will be scheduled for a CCC hearing.

Over the past year, staff also implemented a trial system through the posting of signs/flags that allows skimboarding in specific areas at Aliso Beach based on sand and ocean conditions. As a result, no significant incidents or negative feedback has been recorded. Staff is requesting an extension of the trial period for the skimboard area for another year.

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Photo by Scott Brashier

The city received two responses to a notice of funding availability for affordable housing projects through the Laguna Beach local housing trust fund

Also on Tuesday, council will consider issuing letters of intent for proposals that responded to the city’s local housing trust fund (LHTF) notice of funding availability (NOFA) for affordable housing projects. The NOFA was released on April 10 with a May 7 deadline. The city received two responses.

Council established the Laguna Beach LHTF, and adopted administrative guidelines and Uniform Multifamily Regulations (UMRs) at their April 9 meeting. They also authorized the city manager to issue the NOFA to solicit proposals from qualified developers desiring to partner with the city to carry out affordable housing projects.

The city NOFA noted that up to $5 million could be available for such projects, half from various city funding sources and the other half in matching grant funds from the California department of Housing and Community Development. The city anticipates HCD will issue a NOFA for its LHTF grant program this month. The state department scores grant applications based on several components, including project readiness. City staff expects to submit a LHTF grant application to HCD in June and should know if it’s approved (and if so, for what amount) by the fall.

If approved, Tuesday’s action will authorize the city manager to issue letters to West Development Ventures/Fullerton Development Partners for an amount not to exceed $3 million and Related California for an unknown amount.

The response from West Development Ventures/Fullerton Development Partners requested funds for a residential project with 24 units with a mix of studios and one-bedrooms at 31729 and 31735 Coast Highway (formerly occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone). The proposal identified affordability for very-low and low households and targets the senior population. If approved, it’s estimated to be completed by June 2026.

The response from Related California requested funds for a mixed-use project with 72 units with a mix of studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms at 340 St. Ann’s Drive. The project would provide 100% affordable housing, and would target large households/families, persons with disabilities and homeless persons. The project completion date is estimated for May 2028.

Neither proposal identified a commitment of at least 30% of funding for extremely low-income households, a requirement of the state’s LHTF grant funding. Staff is recommending to issue the letters of intent for both, but with additional clarification of the percent required for extremely low-income households.

According to the staff report, issuing letters of intent (also called “pre-commitment” letters) will increase the competitiveness of the city’s LHTF grant application under HCD’s scoring criteria.

Each letter will explain that the preliminary funding commitment is subject to, and contingent upon, the city receiving $2.5 million in matching grant funds from HCD. If the state department does not approve the city’s application or awards less than the amount requested, Laguna Beach can terminate or reduce the preliminary funding commitment at its sole and absolute discretion.

Both letters will also note that:

The letter is not a guarantee from the city that the proposed project will proceed.

The recipient is responsible, at its sole cost and expense, for securing any and all permits, entitlements, discretionary approvals and environmental reviews for the proposed project.

The city is not obligated to approve any of the foregoing.

Nothing in the letter constitutes the city’s approval of any subsequent agreements (e.g., promissory note, deed of trust, affordable housing regulatory agreement).

“A letter of intent serves as a preliminary agreement outlining the intent of parties involved in a potential transaction. It’s a non-binding document that sets the stage for further negotiations and formal agreements,” the staff report explains. “In the context of city-funded development projects, issuing letters of intent allows the involved parties to express commitment to pursuing the funding and project without being legally bound to do so. This flexibility is crucial, especially in complex projects where uncertainties exist regarding funding, permits and other regulatory requirements.”

On Dec. 12, 2023, the 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.

In a separate item related to affordable housing, council will consider reassignment and extension of the Alice Court ground lease and extension of affordability term.

Laguna Beach entered into a ground lease with Laguna Housing Partners, L.P., in 2003 to facilitate the construction of 26 affordable housing units and one manager’s unit on city-owned property located at 450 Glenneyre St. An amendment to the lease granted the city a license for use of the parking spaces within the garage constructed on the site.

LHP is now selling the development to Alice Court Apartments, L.P., and the ground lease must be assigned to ACA, which requires approval by the city. During city staff discussions with ACA’s representatives, the company agreed to pay off certain project loans, requested that the ground lease’s term be extended for an additional 25 years (to now expire in 2085, instead of 2060) and agreed to continuing renting 100% of Alice Court’s 26 affordable units to very-low-income households for the duration of the extended term.

Also on the agenda on Tuesday, council will consider a lease agreement with the Girl Scouts of Orange County for continued use of the city-owned property at 190 High Drive.

The property has been used by GSOC since 1982. They now have requested a long-term lease agreement that would allow organization to upgrade the interior of the structure and the grounds of the property and raise the necessary funds to complete the improvements. Staff is recommending the lease agreement expire on April 30, 2074.

Plans for improvements include renovating the bathrooms and kitchen, integrating state-of-the-art technology and remodeling the outdoor landscaping.

The proposed 50-year term lease requires a $1 payment, payable upon execution of the lease. Previously, the agreement required $1, but in 2007, the city transitioned to a month-to-month lease at no cost.

Also on Tuesday during regular business, the council will also hear the first reading of a proposed ordinance updating the city’s campaign contribution regulations.

At their March 26 meeting, council unanimously approved the campaign contribution limit for the 2024 election cycle be adjusted to $520 based on the Consumer Price Index. Council directed staff to return with an ordinance for the adjustment to be automatic, and to update the campaign contributions chapter in city code.

According to city code, the base amount for the limitation was set at $440 and that amount is adjusted on January 1 of each even numbered year to reflect changes in the CPI for the area and rounded to the nearest $10.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the adjusted amount with the CPI between 2020 and 2024 is calculated at $515.81, which would be rounded to the nearest $10 and be set at $520.

Tuesday’s regular business also includes public hearings for the annual weed abatement program, the annual sidewalk and intersection visibility nuisance abatement program and an application to remove and de-list two Torrey pine trees located at 465 Hilledge Drive.

On the consent calendar (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public) for Tuesday’s meeting, council will consider an agreement to accept two electric Rivian R1S vehicles for demonstration purposes.

If approved, the action will authorize the city manager to execute a bailment agreement, and related documents, with Rivian, LLC, to accept two 2023 R1S vehicles effective upon delivery until July 1, 2027, or a later date as mutually agreed upon. The item also includes a recommendation to appropriate $40,000 from the vehicle replacement fund for the procurement of charging infrastructure, as well as two sets of emergency response gear, including radios, AV equipment, emergency light bars, medical and aquatic response apparatus.

Rivian offered to donate the SUVs to Laguna Beach at no cost, according to the staff report, which presents an opportunity for the city to study the feasibility and benefits of EVs in a critical operational context. The vehicles are proposed to be used in the marine safety department’s fleet. Rivian staff will collaborate with the city to upfit the vehicles according to department needs (at no additional cost).

Rivian will perform maintenance on the vehicles during the term of the agreement and charge the city at the company’s prevailing reach for the actual cost of services.

Council has also prioritized electrifying the city’s fleet going forward.

Earlier in the day, council is holding a budget workshop so staff can present the proposed budget for fiscal year 2024-25, including key projects, fund requests and an overview of the capital improvement program. The special meeting will also include an overview of the current fiscal climate and proposed changes for the upcoming fiscal year.

The budget workshop starts at 1:30 p.m. and the agenda is available here. The closed session starts at 3:30 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 5 p.m. The agenda is available online here.

Members of the public may speak in person in council chambers.

The meeting can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, Calif. 92651, by email to amckay@lagunabeachcity.net, or by using this interactive form. In order to allow sufficient time for members of the City Council and staff to review and consider your written comments, submissions will be accepted for consideration up until the close of business (i.e., 5:30 p.m.) on May 13 (the day before the City Council meeting).

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


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