Council agenda includes ordinance aimed at streamlining artist occupancy permits, outsourcing city investment management services


City Council has an interesting agenda at tonight’s meeting.

At tonight’s meeting (Tuesday, July 9), council will consider: An ordinance regarding the streamlining of artist occupancy permit applications; transition plan for outsourcing city investment management services; an ordinance officially repealing a previously approved ordinance related to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts and consider adding a business license tax change to the November ballot. There are also several appeals for residential projects on the agenda.

Up first during regular business, council will consider an ordinance aimed at streamlining artist occupancy permit applications.

According to the staff report, the current procedures mandate in-person meetings of the Artist Review Panel for decision-making on artist occupancy permits necessary for artists to occupy working and living units. The task can be cumbersome for panel members, the staff report notes. The proposed ordinance aims to expedite this process by authorizing the community development director or their designee to review these applications.

The city offers artists the opportunity to work and live in the same space with the overarching objective of promoting affordable living for artists and encouraging them to reside in Laguna Beach. Current code requires artists to obtain a conditional use permit and a coastal development permit. The artist must first obtain written authorization from the Community Development Director or their designee that the proposed artwork to be created is appropriate in the proposed zoning designation where the unit is located. This entails reviewing any issued CUP and CDP to analyze whether or not its in compliance or if new permits are required.

The panel, comprised of three members of the Arts Commission, meets in person within 30 days of the application being submitted to either approve or deny it, according to specific criteria (body of work, training in the arts, artwork has been officially presented and letters of recommendation).

The public nature of the Artist’s Review Panel’s meetings require compliance with the Brown Act, including advanced noticing.

“This process inherently results in a significant commitment of staff time and resources to prepare necessary noticing materials and staff reports,” the staff report explains.

Considering the administrative constraints and time required for each application, the city’s cultural arts manager proposed the code amendment to streamline the process.

Under the proposed ordinance, the community development director, or their designee (i.e. the cultural arts manager), will instead review and approve or deny artist occupancy permit applications within 14 days of receiving a complete application from the applicant. Applicants would be allowed to appeal the decision to the City Council.

The Arts Commission unanimously recommended adoption of the ordinance at their April 8 meeting.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council has several interesting items on the agenda for tonight’s meeting

Also during regular business, council will consider a transition plan for outsourcing city investment management services to Meeder Public Trust, including modifications to the roles, responsibilities, and compensation of the city treasurer and finance director.

As part of the item, councilmembers are also asked to consider reducing the city treasurer position approved hours from 1,416 per year to 976 hours per year to adjust for the updated roles and responsibilities and review and adjust the compensation for the position to $85,500.

On the consent calendar (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider an ordinance officially repealing an ordinance related to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts.

On May 28, councilmembers considered options for a qualified referendum and ultimately voted 3-0 on to repeal the ordinance in due to the ordinance’s potential vulnerabilities under state housing laws and the council’s inability to make any amendments (due to the referendum and elections code requirements).

They also directed staff to incorporate certain components of the item into the comprehensive zoning code update that still comply with state housing laws. Councilmember Mark Orgill recused himself due to a business conflict of interest and Councilmember George Weiss was absent.

The ordinance initially stemmed from 2022 ballot initiatives tackling the same issues. Council voted to officially oppose both measures (along with another proposing to increase hotel worker wage) on July 19, 2022. At the time, most councilmembers agreed the initiatives (one sponsored by Laguna Residents First, the other by UNITE HERE Local 11 union) were confusing, over-reaching, or unnecessary. Staff proposed an ordinance with alternative guidelines related to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts, primarily the Downtown.

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The Planning Commission unanimously voted on June 15, 2022, to recommend that the City Council adopt the ordinance with some suggested modifications.

During a special meeting on July 26, 2022, a split 3-2 council approved the introduction and first reading of the ordinance, an action on which was postponed from the July 12 meeting. Councilmember George Weiss and former Councilmember Toni Iseman dissented. During the second reading of the item, at the Aug. 16, 2022, meeting, councilmembers voted 3-2 to adopt the ordinance, but this time Weiss and former Councilmember Peter Blake voted no.

The ordinance notes that lot mergers shall not exceed 15,000 square feet for any property within 500 feet of the Downtown Specific Plan. The language also specifically exempts public facilities and public parking structures from these standards, something several speakers previously raised concerns about with the ballot initiatives.

It also changes the zoning code to amend variances that are heard by the Planning Commission to add that: Height variance limited to where emergency access is required; height variance for new or replacement of existing rooftop mechanical equipment, provided the equipment is required for the operation and maintenance of the building, does not unreasonably encroach into ocean views of neighboring building’s occupants, and respects the design integrity and character of the building, and height variance cannot be issued for the expansion of existing floors or creation of new floors whose envelope would exceed the allowed height limit.

Language in the ordinance also notes that no element of a new building shall exceed 36 feet in height, including but not limited to rooftop elevators, equipment, furniture and other design features.

The ordinance also includes a section that development of existing or newly created parcels requires that the building be constructed on a parcel designed to appear from the street frontage as two or more distinctly different developments to avoid the appearance of a single large project and to ensure maintenance of the city’s small scale and village character.

Following the recommendation from planning commissioners (after quite a bit of back and forth), the ordinance also includes limiting the maximum length of any individual building street frontage to 125 feet, including those buildings which have exposures on two or more street frontages. Longer building lengths may be approved by the Planning Commission when all other design objectives of the section are met.

Other requirements listed in the ordinance relate to public accessible open space, public way improvements, parking and sustainability.

On Sept. 26, 2022, the city clerk received signatures for the referendum petition seeking to repeal the ordinance. The Orange County Registrar of Voters verified a total of 2,613 valid signatures on the referendum petition.

On Nov. 15, 2022, councilmembers unanimously decided to receive and file the referendum against the city ordinance.

Initially, the council was scheduled to consider options and take action, either entirely repeal the ordinance or submit the ordinance to the voters, but a lawsuit filed by the Laguna Beach Company on Nov. 14, 2022, changed the recommended course of action. After the lawsuit was filed looking to invalidate the approved ordinance, council decided to wait on taking action in response to the referendum until they discussed the litigation in closed session.

Also on the consent calendar, council will consider adding a business license tax change to the November ballot.

If approved, the action would authorize staff and the ad hoc committee of Councilmembers Bob Whalen and Mark Orgill to discuss and return to the full council on July 23 with analysis of the inclusion of a measure that would adjust/increase/modify the business license tax that would be place on the November 5 municipal general election ballot.

At the June 11 meeting, council heard the results of a community survey and discussed considering a revenue measure for the November ballot. Council directed staff to look at a transient occupancy tax (TOT) measure versus a business license tax or a sales tax measure (or versus a combination of two or three alternatives). At the June 25 meeting, council asked that this be reconsidered and that an ad hoc committee be authorized to discuss a possible change to the structure of the city’s business license tax. According to the staff report, much of the tax structure and some of the taxes dollar limits have not been adjusted since the late 1990s.

The committee would work with staff to also consider a business licensed tax adjustment (including but not limited to changing the structure or dollar value cap or a combination of both) for consideration by the full council.

Last up during the meeting, there are four appeals for residential projects on the agenda, although staff is recommending continuing two until the August 13 meeting: 8 Rockledge Road and 1536 Morningside Drive are recommended for continuation; and 1526 Morningside Drive and 950 Baja Street are scheduled for discussion.

The closed session starts at 4 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, on the city’s YouTube channel, or on the city website at

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, 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 were accepted for consideration up until the close of business (i.e., 5:30 p.m.) on July 8 (the day before the City Council meeting).


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

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