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Volume 15, Issue 11  | February 7, 2023Subscribe

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Packed council agenda includes interim use plan for St. Catherine campus, Ti Amo surplus property declaration, donation for pride lifeguard tower, traffic calming measures

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council has a packed and varied agenda tonight.

At tonight's meeting (Tuesday, Jan. 24), meeting, during both regular business and the consent calendar, council will consider: An interim use plan for the former St. Catherine of Siena School campus; declaring the city-owned former Ti Amo restaurant site as surplus property; accepting a donation to fund artwork for a pride lifeguard tower at West Street Beach; traffic calming measures for Temple Hills and Bluebird Canyon drives; proposed modifications to the Village Entrance Landscape Plan; an ordinance prohibiting the sale, public use, and distribution of certain balloons and resolution re-adopting the revised 6th cycle Housing Element.

The biggest item of the night is last on the agenda: Interim use plan for St. Catherine of Siena School campus at 30516 Coast Highway.

The property provides the city with a unique opportunity to increase services for the community, according to the staff report. The suggested use plan takes advantage of the available office spaces and recreational areas without making any structural changes. Long-term uses of the property will be considered as part of a comprehensive city facilities master plan.

The property is comprised of four buildings built in 2010, which provide approximately 39,500 square feet of indoor space.

A team of city staff from all departments met several times and carefully developed a proposed interim use plan, according to the staff report. If approved, the plan would use approximately 17,000 square feet of indoor space and would not require significant changes to the buildings or rooms; however, small scale interior improvements such as cleaning, painting and replacing damaged equipment would be necessary.

Packed council agenda includes interim use plan St Catherine

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Steven Georges/Diocese of Orange

An interim use plan for the former Catholic school campus in South Laguna will be considered at the council meeting next week 

Staff is proposing opening the gym building four days a week with hours subject to change based on final programming. The recommendation includes the immediate use of the two offices for recreation staffing and the remainder of the building for recreation programming. 

The program for the gym and the large performance stage could begin in the spring or summer with limited hours. Proposed programming could include: Adult drop-in basketball; indoor pickleball with temporary lines and nets; youth recreation classes and cultural arts programming on the stage. By summer, there could be portable skate ramps in one of the courtyard areas, wedding ceremonies performed in the chapel and opening the facility for extended public hours.

The gym could also provide space for fire and police training and a safe refuge location for residents forced to evacuate from their homes during emergency.

In the main building of the campus, city staff is proposing to use the administrative area, the first floor of the building, and the employee lounge for city operation, which could include fire administration and an emergency operations center. The kindergarten room, library, and three classrooms on the second floor would remain available for community youth and programming.

No interim use is proposed for the lower building, the former middle school classroom area; staff is recommending that the city allow nonprofit and other organizations to use the classrooms daily, weekly, or monthly through a use license agreement. If approved, the action would also authorize the city manager to develop an interim rental program and fee structure with an agreement that is mindful of any long term uses prioritized as part of the facilities master plan.

The outdoor area includes a basketball court, play structure and tables. Staff is recommending programming the space for summer or spring recreational activities, including a small mobile skate park.

The grass field/parking area has two single-use restrooms connected to the rest of the campus with stairs and an elevator. The area can provide approximately 70 parking spaces for overflow parking or parking for larger events. The field would need a material like gravel, pavers, or engineered pervious material concrete. The estimated improvement cost is between $50,000 and $100,000 and is recommended to be funded by the parking fund.

If approved, the item will also appropriate an additional $10,000 from the general fund for maintenance and cleaning, and increase estimated recreation fee and rental fee revenue by $15,000; appropriate $100,000 from the parking fund available fund balance for improvements in the parking areas and authorize the addition of one full-time maintenance worker position and one full-time recreation supervisor position to the fiscal year 2022-23 adopted budget to program, manage and maintain the property.

Community members have also requested to tour the property, prompting staff to prepare it for two or three open house days in February.

The property also contains many books, equipment and other materials not needed by the city, which would need to be either disposed or donated. The city will encourage local nonprofits and other community groups to attend the open house days and place their contact information on an interest list for the items. Popular items will be managed through a lottery-type process.

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Prior to closing escrow on the property on December 28, the city went through a long process to purchase the closed Catholic school in South Laguna.

In a rare agreement, council unanimously decided to move forward on July 19 to study possible uses, gather more community feedback and directed staff to develop a detailed financial plan to purchase the 6.5-acre property.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on August 16 to approve the purchase and authorize the city manager to make a formal offer to the Diocese of Orange for $23 million for the purchase of St. Catherine of Siena school property, with an escrow period up to 120 days.

The August action adopted a financing plan that includes appropriating $23.5 million for the purchase of the property using $4 million from the Future City Facilities account, $2 million from the available American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds designated for city facilities, $3 million from the General Fund mid-year savings, $2 million from Vehicle Replacement Fund mid-year savings and $1 million Insurance Fund mid-year savings.

City Councilmembers wore multiple hats during a dual meeting on October 18 and in both roles they unanimously approved lease financing $12 million to finance a portion of the purchase. 

Although the process and their responsibility as the Laguna Beach Financing Authority, as well as the roles of city treasurer versus the LBFA treasurer, caused some confusion both on the dais and with some city staff. It was settled after some clarification from a consulting attorney and some back and forth between city staff members.

Packed council agenda includes interim use plan Ti Amo

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider declaring the city-owned former Ti Amo restaurant site as surplus property next week 

Earlier in the meeting, during the consent calendar (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider a resolution declaring the city-owned property at 31729 and 31735 Coast Highway (also known as 31727 Coast Highway), the former Ti Amo restaurant, as surplus property and “not necessary for the city’s use.” 

The item was originally scheduled for the January 10 meeting, but was removed from the agenda.

The property was originally purchased in 2021 for civic uses, including a potential future fire station in South Laguna.

The city closed escrow on January 4 for a property at 31796 Coast Highway, which is considered a superior site for a replacement fire station. After more than a year of contentious split votes on the Ti Amo site and applying the potential pressure of eminent domain on the owner of the 31796 Coast Highway property, there was a consensus of support for the new location.

Tonight, if approved, the action will authorize the city manager to comply with the procedures under the Surplus Land Act, which requires agencies to first declare a property surplus land and offer such surplus land to various entities, including housing sponsors and other public agencies for the development of affordable housing, parks, or open space before the agency can privately negotiate any disposition of dispose of the land.

Councilmember Toni Iseman requested on June 7 that the council agendize a future item to consider selling the property at 31727 Coast Highway. 

While there was no official vote or action at the June meeting, there was general consensus on the dais to obtain an appraisal at the appropriate time in the future when the city might be in the position to sell the property.

In 2021, in a split 3-2 vote on June 15, council authorized an agreement with Rincon Consultants Inc. in the amount of $89,199 to provide consulting services for the preparation of an initial study for the acquisition of 31727 Coast Highway and for a possible Mitigated Negative Declaration, if determined to be appropriate. Councilmembers Iseman and George Weiss dissented. 

The Planning Commission voted 5-0 on August 4 to approve city staff’s recommended general plan consistency determination for 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway.

Commissioners and staff emphasized that they were only affirming GP consistency for possible future public benefit use and not a specific use (such as a fire station).

The city entered into escrow to acquire the property, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone. The city offered $2.7 million.

In a split vote on August 24, council took the next step toward acquiring the Ti Amo property in South Laguna for future civic uses, including as a possible replacement for the neighborhood’s local fire station.

At that time, councilmembers again voted 3-2 to certify the initial study/mitigated negative declaration for the acquisition of 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway; and directed staff to complete any steps necessary to close escrow on the subject property. Councilmembers Iseman and George Weiss dissented. 

Although many of the comments during each previous discussion revolved around using the property as the future site for the fire station, that was not the issue at hand, then-Mayor Whalen pointed out during the August council meeting.

It was clearly stated that the purpose for the discussion and vote was to consider the IS/MND and if the property is suitable for acquisition for public purpose, “not necessarily a fire station, but possibly a fire station.”

Planning Commission considered making a parking lotout of it and couldn’t figure out the ingress and egress, Iseman pointed out during the discussion this week. 

Packed council agenda includes interim use plan rainbow tower

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Courtesy Craig Cooley/Laguna Beach Pride 365

An earlier rendering of the proposed rainbow-colored lifeguard tower 

Another noteworthy item on the consent calendar is the acceptance of a donation to fund artwork for a pride lifeguard tower at Camel Point Beach (West Street Beach).

Action on the item includes: The recommended placement of the pride artwork on the lifeguard tower; accepting the donation from Laguna Beach residents Steve Chadima and Mark Porterfield to fund the artwork; approving a plaque acknowledging the donors; authorizing the mayor to send a letter of appreciation for the donation and appropriating $10,000 with a matching increase in revenues to modify the lifeguard tower.

Craig Cooley, president of Laguna Beach Pride 365, first proposed a “rainbow tower of pride” to council on August 2 during public comments on non-agenda items. Cooley suggested the tower on West Street Beach, often considered the “gay beach” in town. He also floated the idea by the county, which operated the beach at the time. City officials said at the August meeting that they were reaching out to the county on the project. 

The idea was mentioned again when the city was working on taking over ownership of the South Laguna beaches in a $22 million deal with the county, which the OC Board of Supervisors later approved.

Six lifeguard towers are included in the approved budget for the city’s deployment on South Laguna beaches.

Although there’s no rendering of suggested artwork included in the staff report for the item, when the idea was raised previously a mockup of the tower showed large horizontal stripes in the colors of the rainbow.

“The pride rainbow artwork symbolizes diversity and unity for the LGBTQIA+ community,” the staff report reads.

Also on the consent calendar, council will consider proposed modifications to the Village Entrance Landscape Plan.

Design review to construct improvements within the city owned property for the village entrance project was approved in late 2017 by the Planning Commission. In early 2018, council approved the project, which included the planting of 118 new public trees as part of the landscape plan.

Mayor Bob Whalen expressed concerns about the conditions of some of the trees that were planted during a meeting on May 24 last year. Public works conducted a comprehensive review of all trees planted and is now proposing some modifications. The changes include removal of two trees that will not be replaced, the removal of eight oak trees to be replaced with redbud trees and the permanent relocation of three trees.

“Although the current landscape plan contains a diverse palette of California native tree species, several of the trees will either outgrow their planting space or will create a conflict with other nearby trees as they mature. The proposed plan modifications will allow staff to optimize the placement and selection of the tree species within the village entrance to facilitate overall healthy and fully formed crown architecture,” the staff report explains.

Packed council agenda includes interim use plan Mylar balloons

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy PMMC

Mylar balloons collected from the water by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center on a clean-up day in 2020 

During regular business, council will consider an ordinance prohibiting the sale, public use and distribution of certain balloons

Staff is recommending the restriction be on one of the following options:

–All metallic balloons, regardless of fill.

–Metallic balloons inflated with a gas lighter than air. 

–All balloons (latex or metallic) inflated with a gas lighter than air.

At the June 21 council meeting, during councilmember requests, Whalen and Councilmember George Weiss requested the council consider an ordinance to prohibit the sale and use of lighter than air balloons within the city.

The request was to discuss adopting an ordinance to ban the sale of balloons made of metalized or foil materials that conduct electricity, including Mylar. They also requested that council direct staff to return with a proposed ordinance.

According to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, there are 100-150 power outages each year due to metallic balloons, Whalen and Weiss wrote in the request. These power outages affect thousands of customers statewide and are costly to repair. They also pose a danger to land and ocean wildlife. 

Whalen and Weiss explained in their request that the existing state balloon law (SB 1990) prohibits the sale or distribution of a balloon that is constructed of electrically conductive material (metallized Mylar or foil) and filled with a gas lighter than air (helium), without affixing an object of sufficient weight to the balloon to counter the lift capability, affixing a specified warning statement on the balloon and affixing a printed identification of the balloon’s manufacturer.

“Unfortunately, this law has not been effective in stopping power outages and electrical distribution equipment failures resulting from the inadvertent release of mylar balloons,” the request reads.

Both the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee (EDPC) and the Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC) have unanimously approved passage of an ordinance to further regulate the sale of these balloons, according to the request.

At the June meeting, councilmembers directed staff to return at a future meeting with two proposed ordinance options, one to ban the sale of lighter than air balloons made of metallized or foil materials that conduct electricity, including mylar and one to ban the sale of all lighter than air balloons. In drafting the ordinance and in collaboration with the city’s emergency staff, a third option banning the sale, use and distribution of all metallic balloons, regardless of fill, was added for consideration.

The ESC reviewed the draft ordinance on October 17 and unanimously supported the third option. On November 7, the EDPC also reviewed the draft ordinance and unanimously supported the second option, with a modified recommendation to add “release” to the restricted activities.

Packed council agenda includes interim use plan Bluebird Temple Hills

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy PMMC

A map of the proposed locations for traffic calming measures along Temple Hills and Bluebird Canyon drives 

Up first during regular business, council will consider recommendations from the PTC Committee, including to install a parking restriction on Brooks Street and possible traffic calming measures for Temple Hills and Bluebird Canyon drives. 

At their September 22 meeting, the Parking, Traffic, and Circulation Committee discussed improving enforcement citywide and how to slow drivers down on the two popular residential streets. Committee members agreed to move forward with the item, notice the community and place it under new business at their next meeting.

In a series of split votes and a reconsideration and then dialed-back follow-up votes on October 27, the committee approved several traffic calming measures, but stopped short of recommending speed tables, humps, or bumps.

After conducting speed surveys, staff proposed additional traffic calming measures, including narrowing lane widths and painting wider striping lines. 

For Bluebird Canyon, the PTC voted 4-2 for the calming measures as proposed, except for the striping.

Committee members also wanted “heightened traffic enforcement” to get people to slow people down. After some discussion, the request for increased enforcement with use of the mobile police radars was included in the ultimately approved motion.

For Temple Hills, following a series of separate motions, the committee ultimately voted 4-2 for just the striping and enforcement.

Installing speed humps was on the table as an alternative for both locations, but ultimately not included in either recommendation for approval.

Although PTC recommendations are typically listed on the consent calendar of the council’s agenda, next week’s item was placed under regular order with a full report in order to receive more public testimony.

“After subsequent discussions with residents, and due to the significant amount of feedback received regarding Bluebird Canyon Drive traffic calming, the city manager agreed to provide the City Council with a history of traffic calming requests on Bluebird Canyon Drive,” and move the item on the agenda lineup for full discussion, the staff report explains. 

At tonight's meeting, included in the PTC recommendations, the council will consider extending the existing parking restrictions 36 feet on the easterly side of Brooks Street at Monterey Street.

In a related but separate item on the consent calendar, council will consider a construction contract for the Bluebird Canyon Drive evacuation route widening project.

If approved, the action will authorize the city manager to execute a contract with Beador Construction Company, Inc., in the amount of $2.43 million for the project; as well as a contract with Dudek in the amount of $257,603 for construction inspection services. The item also includes authorization to the city manager to approve project-related expenses and construction change orders with Beador Construction Company for unforeseen circumstances for an amount not-to-exceed $244,000.

The current budget includes approximately $3.75 million to construct the widening project.

Widening the road to provide sufficient emergency access was identified as an important safety measure in the wildlife mitigation and fire safety report.

Later during regular business, council will consider a resolution re-adopting the revised 6th Cycle Housing Element

On January 11, 2022, council unanimously approved the updated Housing Element, which covers the city’s 2021-2029 planning period.

In March, the document was submitted to the state department of Housing and Community Development, which reviewed it and provided comments to the city in September. HCD identified six outstanding items that needed to be addressed to receive certification. Among some of the items identified, HCD required that the city adopt regulations to permit emergency shelters by right at the site of the city’s existing alternative sleeping location. This requirement was satisfied by the council with a zoning code amendment approved on December 13.

To submit a revised housing element to the state for certification, the council must first re-adopt the Housing Element and incorporate the necessary revisions to achieve substantial compliance with the HCD’s review findings.

“A draft Housing Element was recently completed and presented to HCD staff. HCD has indicated that the proposed revisions satisfy the review comments, and the city’s 6th Cycle Housing Element may now receive state certification once re-adopted by the City Council and resubmitted to the state,” the staff report explains. 

In the unlikely event that HCD responds with additional review comments, the resolution being considered by council on Tuesday includes a provision that grants the director of community development the authority to make minor modifications to the housing element to the extent that such modifications are necessary to address HCD review comments and receive a certified housing element.

Also on the consent calendar: A service provider agreement with Baker Tilly US, LLP, in an amount not-to-exceed $181,000 to conduct a comprehensive, organization-wide classification and compensation study; consultant services agreement with PlaceWorks, Inc., for $426,000, to develop a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan; a proclamation recognizing March 9 as Arbor Day in Laguna Beach and a second reading of the 2022 updates of the California building and fire codes and local amendments.

Later in the evening, during regular business, council will also hear the LB Police Department’s annual update on accomplishments, new programs and staffing during regular business. 

The council agenda is available online here. Closed session starts at 4 p.m., the regular meeting begins at 5 p.m. 

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

To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call 669.900.9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 91641723096#. If you have issues getting into the Zoom meeting or raising your virtual hand to comment, you may text the city clerk at 310.722.5051.

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, CA, 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form. Comments to the City Clerk were to be emailed no later than 3 p.m. on January 23 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments. 

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. today (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m., councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting. 

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

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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