Council to consider options on referendum for building height, mass ordinance, code amendments, transit CIP, parking meter contract

By SARA HALL

The agenda for next week’s Laguna Beach City Council meeting has a variety of notable items up for discussion.

At the Tuesday (May 28) meeting, council will consider: Referendum for a city ordinance relating to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts; amendments to housing and land use elements of the city’s general plan and local coastal program and city code; request to remove a property from the historic register; capital improvement program for transportation and transit improvement projects and contract for parking meter operations.

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider options for a referendum for a city ordinance related to building height and bulk in commercial districts, including Downtown

Last up during regular business, council will consider options for a qualified referendum for a city ordinance relating to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts.

Council will be asked to either:

–Direct staff to return with an ordinance, and take all steps necessary, to repeal the ordinance and amend city code, relating to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts.

–Direct staff to return with the requisite election resolutions, and take all steps necessary, to submit the ordinance to the voters at the November 5 regular municipal election.

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.

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 be 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.

According to next week’s staff report, ordinances that are the subject of a referendum are automatically suspended once the petition with sufficient signatures is submitted. Therefore, Laguna Beach’s ordinance related to building height, mass, bulk and parking within commercial districts has not been in effect since the referendum qualified.

Staff also note in the report that in order to meet the relevant deadlines for the upcoming November election, council must now choose to either repeal the ordinance or submit the referendum to the voters.

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Also on Tuesday’s agenda during regular business, council will consider amendments to housing and land use elements of the city’s General Plan and local coastal program, and various related city code titles.

At their February 27 meeting, councilmembers first heard the amendments, which are aimed at complying with state housing laws and the city’s housing element.

At the time, the amendments included a new chapter for the city’s inclusionary housing policy and new provisions related to density bonuses, single-room occupancy units, transitional and supportive housing, low barrier navigation centers, reasonable accommodations, home occupation/work-live standards, lot consolidations for senior and affordable housing projects and associated amendments.

Specific amendments were to the city’s land use element removing conditional use permit requirements for residential uses in the local business/professional general plan land use designation, and removing both the conditional use permit requirements and floor area restrictions for non-visitor-serving facilities (including service and residential uses) in the commercial/tourist corridor land use designation. Also to Title 1 (general provisions), addressing art in public places, and Title 25 (zoning), addressing housing programs and incentives in accordance with state law and the city’s housing element programs.

At the February meeting, council directed staff to incorporate and address councilmember comments and to return at a future meeting.

Also on Tuesday, council will consider a request to remove a property from the historic register.

The Heritage Committee recommended that the council direct city staff to prepare a resolution denying the request to de-list the property at 2055 Catalina St.

The property was initially placed on the register with a “K” rating in 2007, after the previous property owner submitted an application. The rating is given to resources that are “very good historical architectural examples which strongly retain their original integrity. These buildings have significant architectural, historical, and/or aesthetic value and are fine period examples.” Although, at the time, it was not fully evaluated for historic significance and architectural integrity.

A historic assessment prepared last year concluded that the property is “not historically or architecturally significant as an example of early development in Laguna Beach,” and it doesn’t meet the criteria for designation in state or city register. Based on these findings, the current property owner requested it be removed.

In a 3-1 vote on Oct. 16, 2023, the Heritage Committee recommended council deny the request and maintain the property’s listing due to “inconsistencies within the assessment” regarding certain criteria and that “the residence is an intact example of an early- Laguna Beach cottage.”

The item was initially up for review by the council at the April 9 meeting, however, prior to the public hearing, staff recommended continuing the item so the city’s historic consultant could provide responses to the additional public comments received. Councilmembers also asked a number of questions related to procedure, applicable code sections, California Environmental Quality Act and whether there should be a peer-review of the historic resource assessment.

Earlier in the meeting, on the consent calendar (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider the updated seven-year capital improvement program for transportation and transit improvement projects required for measure M eligibility.

The measure M program provides funding for transportation improvements through 2041 generated by a countywide one-half cent retail sales tax. Funds are distributed based on a formula using population, miles of existing arterial highways within each jurisdiction, and taxable sales. For fiscal year 2024-25, Laguna Beach will receive approximately $625,000 for street repairs and maintenance. Funds are also distributed for transportation programs on a competitive basis.

To qualify, the city must comply with certain eligibility requirements, including annually approving an updated seven-year CIP for transportation-related expenditures that will or may be funded by measure M. The city also has to adopt a pavement management plan every other year.

Projects slated for the upcoming fiscal year include trolley services and operations, and street slurry and rehabilitation.

Also on the consent calendar, council will consider a $1.49 million contract for parking meter operations and transaction processing, with IPS Group, Inc.

Laguna Beach operates approximately 1,800 solar-powered on-street parking meters and 15 multi-space pay stations provided by IPS.

Next week, staff is recommending entering into a five-year agreement with IPS for parking meter operations and transaction processing with a one-year option term. The current agreement with IPS expires on June 30.

According to the staff report, IPS parking meters brought in more than $4.5 million in revenue in 2023.

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 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 27 (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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