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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Also, as part of wildfire safety, the city needs to continue managing the urban wildland interface, the area between where people live and open space, she explained. That should be done through the best available science and strategic vegetation thinning.

“We can provide defensible space for our neighborhoods while protecting our incredible greenbelts,” Jones said. “It’s not an either/or situation, we need to be able to do both.”

Public safety absolutely comes first, but they can’t ignore what’s happening with the climate and any sensitive environmental resources, she added.

Jones also commented on what development might look like for the city. Some of the work she’s most proud of in her career has been around promoting smart infrastructure and development projects in the community.

“To me, smart development means development projects that really align with our community values, protecting our natural environment, our arts community, supporting small businesses and things that support our quality of life as residents,” Jones said. “This idea of promoting smart development rather than being anti-development is – in my opinion – going to be absolutely key if we want an evolving and a thriving town.”

They should focus on right-sizing the zoning for the community character they want to preserve and that they want to build, she added.

This is especially true for two areas: Affordable housing and small business development.

“We’re only going to make meaningful progress in those areas if we have a city council that’s committed to rational solutions oriented in collaborative problem solving,” Jones said.

Regarding affordable housing, Jones supports exploring creative infill development and redevelopment, and looking at second floor residential in the commercial zone. Also, if large scale development, rather than adaptive reuse, is going to be built in the Downtown, those buildings need to be located in places that make sense for the community and for potential residents, she emphasized.

“We need to look at affordable housing solutions that contribute to the character of our community. And I think we need to look at solutions that build diversity and solutions that energize our Downtown and support a pedestrian and bike-friendly community,” Jones said. “We need to reach those housing goals without compromising Laguna’s character.”

That creative thinking also applies to promoting small businesses.

“A healthy business community is critical if we’re going to have a rich vibrant community, which is what we’re all looking for, and a healthy economy,” Jones said.

The city can support small businesses by streamlining processes at city hall and making permitting in the development process more objective and less subjective. It should be clear and streamlined, she said.

She also noted her support for decoupling parking requirements.

“If our Downtown burned down and we had to rebuild under our current zoning, our community would be a bunch of surface parking lots,” she said, “and that’s not what any of us want.”

Streamlining processes can also support the local arts community, she added, noting that she comes from a family of artists. Jones mentioned support for the idea of a land trust dedicated to artist live/work space.

“Our arts community is a huge part of what makes this community so special,” she said. “We need to identify and support creative live/work solutions that align with our town’s character.”

Answering a question from the audience, Jones said that not every idea for a parking structure would work in Laguna Beach. The “magic” is finding a sensible solution, particularly given the timeframe of construction, the expense of building large structures, that society is moving away from the single vehicle model, and that they’re trying to promote a more pedestrian-friendly community. A parking structure needs to be well thought out and designed in the best possible way so it’s contributing to the viewshed and the character of the community and it’s functional.

“We don’t want a gigantic concrete box that is empty nine months out of the year; that’s not what anybody wants,” Jones said. “Let’s make sure that we’re designing something that is absolutely in line with the character of our community.”

Jones also highlighted her support for the Forest Avenue Promenade.

“It’s been good for the business community and good for our residents. It adds a vibrancy to our Downtown that I really love. It’s a place that I enjoy spending time and a place that I enjoy taking out-of-town visitors as well,” she said. “We should be looking at more out of the box things like this.”

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


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