NewLeftHeader

broken clouds

61.4°F

Laguna Beach


Laguna Beach Chamber announces upcoming special events

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce has announced two upcoming events: 2022 Board of Directors Installation Mixer and the 2022 State of the City Luncheon…so mark your calendars.

–Join Mayor of Laguna Beach Sue Kempf and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce at the 2022 Annual Chamber Board Installation Mixer on Wednesday, Jan. 29 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. to instate the 2022 Board of Directors to the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. They will also be announcing the recipient of their annual Chamber Champion award. This year’s honoree is Lesli DelRio. This award is presented annually to those who go above and beyond in supporting the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. The mixer takes place at Sueños Laguna Beach, 22 Ocean Ave. Cost: Chamber members, $20; Prospective members, $25. To register, go here.

–The Chamber and the City of Laguna Beach are presenting the 2022 State of the City Luncheon on Tuesday, March 1 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Each year, Laguna Beach’s mayor gathers with the community and business leaders to share the city’s accomplishments and outlook for the future. Come hear Mayor Sue Kempf as well as Laguna Beach Chamber Board Chairman J.J. Ballesteros, for the State of the City and State of the Chamber address. The luncheon takes place at Montage Laguna Beach, 30801 S. Coast Highway. Tickets are $120. Sponsorships are available: Table Sponsorship is $1,500; Silver Sponsor is $3,000 and Gold Sponsor is $5,000. To register, go here.


Council selects three potential affordable housing sites to study further 

By SARA HALL

Following a presentation this week detailing affordable housing candidate sites, City Council directed staff to further examine three potential sites.

Council unanimously agreed on Tuesday (Jan. 11) for city staff to study three possible locations: Vista Aliso (21544 Wesley Drive); Laguna Beach Unified School District bus depot (2003 Laguna Canyon Road); and parking lot #3 (243 Ocean Ave., behind Bushard’s Pharmacy).

The analysis on all three sites will return at a future meeting, along with an outline of the entitlement process, should the city decide to pursue any of the selected locations.

Mayor Sue Kempf liked the Vista Aliso location and thought the bus yard site was adequate.

“None of these sites are exactly perfect,” she said, but they’re the best options available.

They can discuss the issue for hours, Councilmember Peter Blake noted, but there will always be at least one person who opposes any potential location.

“But we just have to find two locations and just get the shovel in the dirt and start building,” Blake said.

Blake noted that the Ocean Avenue site could be interesting for senior housing. There are a lot of local benefits, including nearby groceries, pharmacy services and shopping.

“It’s just a really incredible situation,” Blake said.

It’s a good idea to have some affordable housing downtown, Kempf agreed, but the cost is high and the space is limited so it might be challenging.

The other primary candidate sites presented were: Act V lot (1900 Laguna Canyon Road); Pepper Tree lot (322 Forest Ave.); and parking lot #10 (725 Laguna Canyon Road).

The Planning Commission reviewed the sites on August 25. Commissioners expressed concern about the current design of both downtown sites and recommended the council give particular scrutiny to the integration of parking into each project design.

Planning Commissioner and longtime urban planner Steve Kellenberg gave the presentation, noting that it’s one strategy of many concepts that can be utilized to address housing issues. Affordable housing needs to be on the scale that it can receive outside funding and can actually make a dent in the need, he said.

Kellenberg went over each site in detail, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of each potential location. 

Council selects three beach houses and hills

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A discussion this week revolved around affordable housing in Laguna Beach

It’s important to have an action plan, said Housing and Human Services Committee member Barbara McMurray.

“We need specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (or S.M.A.R.T.) goals,” McMurray said.

They’ve spent hundreds of hours crafting these recommendations, she added. Like the rest of the committee, she wants to see forward movement on affordable housing in this city.

“We all agree that we don’t want Laguna Beach to become just a weekend playground for wealthy people who own second homes here or a day-tripper beach destination for inland residents,” McMurray said. “We desperately need to fill in some of the missing middle housing so that regular people can afford to live here.”

They should have made accommodations for this decades ago, she admitted, but they didn’t, so the work needs to be done now.

Resident John Thomas said he supports affordable housing, but noted the extreme cost to develop these projects, not even including the land, can be incredibly challenging.

“The financial challenge to do these things is just mind boggling,” Thomas said.

There are other strategies, like Accessory Dwelling Units or adaptive re-use, Thomas said, reiterating Kellenberg’s earlier point.

“You really have to look at the whole ball of wax,” Thomas said. “While there is merit to doing this kind of project, just from a cost standpoint, a lot of the other (options) are a lot more feasible.”

Housing and Human Services Committee member Jacquie Schaefgen had a positive outlook on the situation.

“It is a very complicated process to get a project through to the point that it is feasible and all the financing pieces are put into place, but it’s doable and I feel like we should try,” she said. “I think we can do it.”

In 2019-20, HCD awarded 958 grants and loans totaling more than $2.5 billion to create 19,471 new affordable apartments and single-family homes in California. The funds also went to preserve 16,481 housing units, subject to affordable rent or homeownership requirements and rehabilitate 986 substandard housing units.

This is just the starting point, she emphasized. They aren’t looking to build thousands of units, they’re looking to consider what this approach can add to the city’s affordable housing stock as one prong of the solution.

“These sites deserve some analysis for what is possible,” Schaefgen said.

Other public comments supported the bus yard site, cautioned against the Vista Aliso location as it could have the potential to be a school again, and noted the need in South Laguna.

In another housing-related item on Tuesday’s agenda, council unanimously approved adopting a general plan amendment for the 6th Cycle Housing Element.

The Housing Element needs to be updated every eight years. The 6th Cycle covers the city’s 2021-2029 planning period and assesses the current and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community. It also includes policies and action programs that further the production of housing.

The city doesn’t need to construct the 394 units identified as part of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, but has to ensure that there are adequate housing sites and zoning standards to accommodate the required number of units.

The Housing Element must be adopted and submitted to the State Department of Housing and Community Development by February 12.

Some of the key programs in the document that facilitate special needs residential housing development include:

–Rezoning the 340 St. Ann’s Drive church parking lot to institutional to allow unlimited density with the approval of a conditional use permit.

–Initiate phase two of the Downtown Specific Plan update to allow for residential development and provide permissive development standards as incentives specific to special needs residential housing (e.g., increased height, reduced parking, etc.).

–Update the Laguna Canyon Specific Plan to potentially allow for residential development in light industrial areas and allow for work/live units not restricted to artists.

–Consider mixed-use and work/live units along the Coast Highway corridor.

–Amend the zoning code to allow more flexible development standards to facilitate special needs residential housing at 30 du/ac or higher density.

–Amend the R-3 zone to allow multi-family special needs residential housing by-right.

–Promote ADUs by creating a comprehensive handbook and information on the website.

–Outreach to religious institutions to assist in development of special needs residential housing. 

~~~~~~~~

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


Planning Commission delays decision on possible public parking next to Ti Amo

By SARA HALL

South Laguna could soon have more parking as a city board weighs a proposal to use the empty lot adjacent to the former Ti Amo by il Barone restaurant. 

Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Wednesday (Jan. 5) to continue the item until the commission’s February 2 meeting. Commissioner Susan Whitin recused herself from the vote (after participating in the discussion) because of a conflict within 500 feet of the project site.

The item was for a Temporary Use Permit and Coastal Development Permit to allow a day-use paid public parking program for a three-year period at a lot adjacent to a vacant commercial building (previously Ti Amo by il Barone) at 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway in the South Laguna Village Commercial zone. 

Site improvements include new trash and recyclable receptacles, new solar powered pay station, new lot signage and refreshing the pavement markings. The lot will be open year-round with enforcement from 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

Most of the discussion revolved around whether or not the alley connected to the parking lot should be closed off to through traffic, which would make the ingress/egress from Coast Highway the only access to the lot. 

Staff’s proposal kept the alley open, but suggested layout designs from South Laguna Civic Association closed it off. 

Commission Chair Steve Goldman and other commissioners ultimately directed city staff to study the various layout alternatives with a focus on circulation and safety, not maximizing spaces. 

“I think this isn’t going to get approved in its current state,” Goldman said. “My guess is that the commissioners will ultimately approve some version of this because having some parking spaces versus no parking spaces on a property just sitting and doing nothing is probably the best alternative.” 

Some commissioners questioned whether eight parking spaces are worth the continued maintenance and enforcement the lot will need. 

“It seems like more trouble than it’s worth,” said Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin, noting that the number of potential spaces is half of the original estimate of 16.

The parking spaces originally proposed for the corner of the lot have to be removed because of the exposed roots of the eucalyptus tree, explained Capital Program Manager Tom Perez. Others were removed to allow for turn-around space.

“We’re making a lot ado about a little…We’re spending a lot of city time and resources on figuring out how to get seven or eight parking spaces here, which, in my opinion, is not the highest or best use of our staff,” Goldman said. “But, at the end of the day, having parking spaces versus nothing is clearly better.”

Other commissioners agreed that even a few additional spaces are worth it, especially considering the lot is not currently being used at all.

“Parking is parking, and parking is precious,” Whitin said. 

It will also bring in some revenue, several others noted. 

Planning Commission delays Ti Amo property

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The property at 31727 PCH, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

When the city purchased the lot, the Planning Commission approved staff’s general plan consistency determination to acquire the property for future civic uses. 

There was no plan or project or determined use for the property, Goldman said. As a taxpayer, it’s frustrating to see the city buy a property with no clear plan, he commented. 

“That frustration is exasperated in this conversation,” Goldman said on Wednesday. 

Goldman questioned the ultimate use of the building and whether or not it would be demolished in the future. If so, they should do it now to allow for a bigger parking lot. 

There is not a specified use identified at this time, Perez confirmed. 

“Our goal was to make an impact for this coming summer season and be able to open the parking lot (by then) and that’s why we were looking to use just the existing layout with minimal improvements required,” Perez said. 

Moving forward with demolishing the building would require further permitting and the purpose would need to be identified, he added. Since the future use of the site is still up in the air, this is a temporary idea to get some use out of the lot.

“With the uncertainty of what the site will ultimately be, the thought was that we would move forward the quickest and fastest way that would could provide some parking and not really take a lot of time and expense to do so,” Perez said.

It will likely be primarily utilized by visitors and not locals, Perez said. The shopper’s permit will likely be valid at the lot, he added. 

Most people parking there will probably be a significantly high percentage of beachgoers, Goldman agreed. Visitors walk up and down the highway now, he said, and people headed to Table Rock will probably use the lot. 

“You’re going to have people here who aren’t familiar with the area,” he said. “The beachgoers – overall – who come, it’s a mess the way these guys park and wander around on Coast Highway.”

It’s a little “dodgy” and unclear back through the back alley, Whitin said. The two-way circulation alternative is a good idea, she added.

John Thomas, vice president of the South Laguna Civic Association, said the group supports the TUP for re-opening the parking lot but with revisions.

“With the demand for parking here, why not try to make some reasonable use of it, even if it’s not optimal,” Thomas said. “It just seemed kind of silly to close it off until the city decides what they’re going to do with it.”

The association’s main point of concern with the layout was regarding the exit route through the alley, Thomas said. The general public’s use of the alley is problematic, he said. 

In a letter to the commission, Thomas wrote that there are issues regarding using the narrow and circuitous route as an exit. It’s likely going to be much busier than it was when previously used for the restaurant, which had an attendant overseeing the lot.

They preferred the design with the ingress/egress on Coast Highway, Thomas said.

SLCA provided two suggested layout designs for consideration. 

“Our effort in doing these revised layouts was to try to make the area work as best we could and to make it similar to how the area has been used in the past,” said SLCA Director Emerita Ann Christoph. 

The restaurant was only open in the evenings and during the day the parking lot was virtually empty, she said. People in the neighborhood used the alley and parking lot as an alternative exit on Coast Highway. 

There was also some questions as to ownership of the alleyway easement. 

Although some commissioners questioned whether making the highway the only entrance and exit onto the lot was an appropriate design.

Having access only from Coast Highway doesn’t make sense, Dubin said. It would be better if the egress is through the alley to Seacliff Drive, where a traffic light provides a safe option for drivers to turn in either direction on Coast Highway. 

If all ingress/egress is on Coast Highway, people will be slowing down and pulling in there to look for empty spaces. That could interrupt the flow of traffic on Coast Highway and cause congestion, Dubin said. If the lot is full (which it likely will be most of the time with just eight spaces) getting back out onto the highway could cause a potential hazard, he added. 

“I just don’t think the egress onto Coast Highway is a good idea at all, I think it’s really dangerous,” Dubin said. 

It creates more risk than benefit, Dubin added. And it could open the city up to liability issues if there’s an accident.

Whether it’s perfect or not, circulation through the lot with egress out the alley to Seacliff Drive has been functioning for years with the restaurant and businesses there, Dubin said. 

“To change that in order to try and get people in and out on Coast Highway I think is a really dangerous solution,” he said. “If the egress is out to Coast Highway, I just feel like something not good is going to happen there.”

~~~~~~~~

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


Committee holds off on recommending staffing model for new, in-house ambulance program

By SARA HALL

After an hour-long discussion this week, a city committee unanimously decided to hold off on making any kind of official recommendation to City Council regarding staffing models for the recently approved in-house ambulance transport services program.

On Monday (Jan. 3), the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee voted 8-0 to table the item until the EDPC’s February 7 meeting.

Committee members expressed general support for the idea of the in-house program and noted the benefits of staffing the ambulances with Laguna Beach Fire Department firefighter paramedics versus ambulance operators (AOs). They also had some concerns, as outlined in a draft resolution that they ultimately did not approve. 

Primary concerns were the compressed schedule not providing enough time for a comprehensive analysis comparing the two staffing models and staying in their “lane” as a committee.

“My first grave concern is the timeframe,” said EDPC member Bill Niccum. “The timeframe we’re asked to work within is so compressed I don’t think we can really pull it together in that timeframe.” 

There are many layers of approval, he explained, including testing, vetting and the background investigations.

“All of that takes a lot of time to put into play,” he said. 

Then it has to go through the approval process with both county and state EMS, he added, that could take several more months.

“We’re up against the time,” he said. 

City Council unanimously agreed on December 14 to transition from contracting private ambulance transport service to providing a city-operated program, staffed and supported by the LBFD. Council directed city staff to return at the January 25 meeting with a financial analysis comparing staffing LBFD paramedics versus hired ambulance operators.

The approved program will be implemented by July 1. Staff will then report back to council in one year with an update and detailed analysis on the new service.

The EDPC Fire Risk Mitigation Subcommittee reviewed the council’s action and came up with a draft resolution of their own to recommend hiring a workforce of licensed firefighter-paramedics instead of AOs.

Although it would undoubtedly be a more costly staffing model, it would enhance both patient care and LBFD response capabilities, the subcommittee concluded. 

The AOs aren’t very costly, but they’re also a single function resource, Niccum said. 

“All they do is treat and transport,” he said. 

Firefighter paramedics are cross-trained in various potential risks to the city, he noted. 

Ambulance operators are essentially entry-level EMTs, described EDPC Chair Matt Lawson.

Committee holds off ambulance

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A Doctor’s Ambulance Service vehicle in Laguna Beach

Since a firefighter-paramedic must accompany every patient during an advanced life support medical transport, that effectively reduces the fire department’s response capacity by 25% when the engine company and apparatus have to go outside the city, Lawson explained. 

This concern was detailed in the draft resolution the subcommittee wrote as well. 

If there aren’t enough firefighters on hand, a simple brush fire could easily get out of hand, he said. 

The benefits are enormous, Niccum said. They have some research on the in-house FD paramedic program from neighboring cities, he pointed, including Newport Beach. They can reach out for best practices when they do a more comprehensive analysis, he added. 

However, it would be very challenging to staff the new in-house ambulance program with firefighter paramedics by July 1, several committee members agreed. 

It might be a better idea to consider the AO staffing model as a pilot program and embrace it for, as an example, two years, Niccum suggested.

“(We would) then be in a position or aligned to where we can make a solid, comprehensive proposal to staff other than AOs,” he said. 

At the moment, it’s prudent to support council’s direction in moving forward with the program staffed with AOs, Niccum said. If it’s a “pilot program” that gives them an adequate amount of time to look at the benefits and drawbacks, he said. 

There should be an honest financial comparison, Lawson said. 

Lawson suggested drafting a resolution recommending support of moving the ambulance transport services in-house and using the AOs for the time being. 

In a year (or a more appropriate timeline as recommended by the fire chief) they can evaluate the program and analyze the real costs associated with it. At the same time, the LBFD staffing adequacy report should be completed, Lawson noted. They can then use all of that data for a comprehensive study of the firefighter paramedic staffing model.

Although there was some support for the idea, not all the committee members were on board.

EDPC Committee member David Horne suggested waiting until they could get LBFD Fire Chief Mike Garcia’s opinion on the possible timeframe before moving forward with any kind of resolution or recommendation. He may prefer a pilot program of three years or 18 months, Horne said. 

“We can make some general statement about supporting the chief and all that, but to try and put some real firm timelines on it when we don’t know what he wants – we’re wrong,” Horne said. “And I won’t support that at all.”

Niccum agreed that they need input from Garcia. They also want to ensure the firefighter’s union is on board, he added. 

Lawson suggested proposing it as a pilot program with a timeline that’s subject to LBFD command staff. 

Although Horne still thought it was out of their purview to make such a recommendation.

“I think this is a wrong move to step out of line,” he said.

It should be more of a general statement of support, Horne explained, not a resolution with an official recommendation. 

A few other committee members agreed with Horne’s concern.

They’re “recommenders” but if the chief hasn’t given input, they’re out of bounds, Shelly Bennecke said. 

“I’m a big fan of lane keeping and I feel like we’re a little bit out of our lane,” Ernest Hackmon added.

Committee holds off emergency vehicles

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A Doctor’s Ambulance Service vehicle and a LBFD truck at station one in Laguna Beach

Although EDPC Vice Chair Bob Elster said their role is to make a recommendation based off of their own expertise and opinion.

“We need to, as our position of advising the city (council), we need to push the envelope a little bit,” Elster said. “I would like to see us give it a nudge.”

Drafting a resolution of their recommendation would support LBFD and Garcia in this process, Elster said, and then they would follow his lead in terms of how long city staff would need to examine the AO staffing model before making a decision. 

Their job, as a committee, is to share their knowledge in recommendations, not just to agree with whatever the city staff says, Elster commented. 

“We’re not ‘yes’ people, we should be having our own opinions,” he said. 

Staff can push back on us if it’s not feasible or something else works better, Elster added. 

There’s no harm in ensuring the evaluation at least takes into consideration the issues the subcommittee raised in the resolution, Lawson said. 

“Those are very real (issues),” he said. 

They can voice their concerns without making an official recommendation. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said he heard the committee members’ concerns “loud and clear.” The appropriate step for him, as the EDPC liaison, is to relay those comments to city staff, he said. This would include getting a status report for the related studies already approved by council, including the LBFD staffing adequacy evaluation. 

Niccum mentioned that the LBFD staffing adequacy evaluation results will identify any overarching staffing issues, including whether or not the LBFD staffing is currently adequate and if it meets the National Fire Protection Association standards, as well as the expectations of the community. 

That will then help them provide an unbiased and comprehensive analysis on the various staffing models for the in-house ambulance transport services program.

“I think that would be a step in the right direction, just to get that ball rolling,” Niccum said. 

They should strongly support the expeditious commencement of the LBFD staffing adequacy study, Elster added. That will help answer both the questions about national standard levels and potential ambulance staffing.

It’s not unreasonable to request an EDPC member be part of the process as another voice, he suggested. 

Other committee members agreed that the overall staffing levels and needs of the fire department go “hand in hand” with the potential impact of staffing the ambulance transport program.

Most agreed that the LBFD firefighter paramedics would provide a number of benefits for the new in-house program. 

But it’s a big financial decision for the city, Whalen noted. He agreed the prudent move would be to move forward with the AO staffing plan while they look more comprehensively at the LBFD firefighter paramedic option, something he also suggested when the council voted on the program.

~~~~~~~~

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


City Councilmembers “turn up the heat” at Firefighter for a Day event

City Councilmembers and city department heads were invited to participate in the Firefighter for a Day event on December 10. The purpose of this event was to show council and department heads the recently purchased specialized equipment, what firefighters do and how they work together as a team.

City Councilmembers Whalen

Click on photo for a larger image

Photos courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen “suits up” at Firefighter for a Day event

The day was filled with hands-on activities:

–Council and staff met at Station 1 (505 Forest Ave.) and were provided an overview of the day from Chief Garcia and Battalion Chief Teichmann. Each participant was provided safety gear, including custom brush fire jackets, helmets, eye protection and gloves.

–LBFD firefighters facilitated a walkthrough of the fire engines, identifying what equipment is carried, why, function, etc.

–The group divided up and joined LBFD crews assigned to engines. LBFD Engine 2, Engine 3, Engine 302 and OES [Office of Emergency Services] 1314 were used (two participants per engine).

–Simulation began. The crews were dispatched to a report of a wildfire behind the U-Haul on LCR (LBFD training site). Units “responded” from Station 1.

City Councilmembers firefighter

Click on photo for a larger image

(L-R) Councilmember George Weiss, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, Councilmember Toni Iseman and Director of Administrative Services Gavin Curran, listen to an LBFD firefighter in the field

–Council and staff were able to observe how the firefighters would initially respond to a wildfire. After a demonstration, council and staff were asked to “join the crew” and help lay hose up the hill and “put out the fire.” The group discussed the resources that LBFD has to fight a vegetation fire, and what type of mutual and automatic aid comes in support. The dangers and risks to fighting a vegetation fire were discussed and the LBFD crew demonstrated deploying their last-resort fire shelters. Council and staff were able to practice deploying a fire shelter.

City Councilmembers Kempf

Click on photo for a larger image

Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf (back to camera) and City Manager Shohreh Dupuis (holding hose) “joined the crew” and helped lay hose up the hill and “put out the fire” in this simulation

–Next simulation was a multi-car motor vehicle accident with entrapment. Crews “responded” and again council and staff were able to observe the initial response of engine and ambulance crews. On display were the new battery-operated extrication tools to allow firefighters to safely access and remove victims from motor vehicle accidents. Council and staff were given the opportunity to use the tools to force open doors, cut off roofs and push dashboards to access and extricate the “patient.”

City Councilmembers fire truck

Click on photo for a larger image

(Back row L-R) Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen, Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, City’s Human Resources/Risk Manager Aggie Nesh, Councilmember Toni Iseman, Councilmember George Weiss, Director of Administrative Services Gavin Curran and Director of Public Works Mark McAvoy join LBFD fire personnel at Engine 302

City councilmembers and staff all came away with an immense amount of gratitude and appreciation for what the LBFD does each day to keep us safe.


Commission approves sculpted pelican mural for Coast Liquor wall, new artist for augmented reality installation

By SARA HALL

This week the Laguna Beach Arts Commission supported a sculpted mural honoring a once-endangered coastal bird, and, in another vote, approved a new artist and stipend for a previously discussed augmented reality installation.

Commissioners voted 6-0 on Monday (Dec. 13) in favor of an Art in Public Places application for 1391 South Coast Highway, at Coast Liquor. The developer, Dornin Investment Group, proposed an installation titled “Pelican Surfers” by local artist Casey Parlette. 

The sculptural installation will feature three pelicans created of bronze and redwood in flight over ocean waves made of blue-green hued titanium. It would be mounted as a mural on the building’s exterior north-facing wall (drivers traveling south on Coast Highway would see it).

Commission Vice Chair Pat Kollenda enthusiastically supported the sculpted mural. 

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “It is drop dead gorgeous.”

Other commissioners had a few questions about the stucco texture behind the waves and some clarifications about materials, but overall were on board with the artwork.

The pelicans’ heads, wings and tails will be created of bronze, which will be hammered and welded together. Each pelican will have a wingspan of seven feet. The body itself will be created out of redwood, which is extremely weather resistant, Parlette said.

The ocean and waves background will be five feet in height by 25 feet in width.

Parlette explained that he can use heat to get a variety of different colors from the titanium, a material he’s worked with for many years. A benefit of titanium, he explained, is that once it obtains a certain color, it stays that way. It’s also practically impervious to the elements and essentially maintenance-free, he added. 

The waves will be colored a green-blue, abalone-like shade, Parlette said. 

“Depending on the lighting and time of day…it might change a little bit,” said Parlette, holding up an example piece of the blue metal. The wave will be “a combination of that, that kind of complements the pelicans going by.”

Commission approves sculpted Pelican Surfers

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy Casey Parlette/City of Laguna Beach

A rendering of the proposed sculpted mural “Pelican Surfers” by Casey Parlette

Most of his artwork is wildlife related, he said, “a celebration of nature.” This particular piece is a combination of a few different things.

As a kid born in the late 1970s, pelicans were endangered and on their way to becoming extinct, Parlette said. 

Brown pelicans nearly vanished due to pesticide use, habitat loss and hunting, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The large coastal bird was first declared endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act (now called the Endangered Species Act). 

After about four decades of conservation efforts and a ban on DDT pesticide, the large coastal bird was completely removed from the list of threatened species in 2009.

“Through good management, they’re now fairly common,” Parlette pointed out. “We see them almost every day.”

Laguna Beach was an early leader in the effort. City Council approved an ordinance declaring the town a bird sanctuary in 1973.

“The pelican, as far as conservation stuff goes, they are such an iconic species,” Parlette said. 

When watching them fly out over the water, he notices them “tuck in” and ride the swell of the waves, he noted. 

“To capture a little bit of that essence, I think, is a unique thing to show,” Parlette said. 

Commission approves sculpted eagle example

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy Casey Parlette/City of Laguna Beach

An eagle created by Casey Parlette with the same materials as the proposed pelicans 

The wave will slightly extend off the wall and the birds will be fully three-dimensional, Parlette explained. Given the site location and size, onlookers will be able to enjoy the view from a variety of angles, he noted.

The bottom edge of the titanium will likely be about seven feet off the ground. The birds will be approximately nine to 10 feet up, just out of reach of most people, Parlette said. 

The precious metals might be attractive to people trying to steal it, noted Commission Chair Adam Schwerner. 

Answering a question about how it will be secured to the wall, Parlette explained that the titanium plates will be riveted to a welded stainless steel structure. The structure itself will be attached to the cinderblock wall with tamper-resistant bolts, he added.

“It would be a fairly challenging thing for someone to try and take off the wall,” he said. “It’s a great concern and something I keep in mind when I build it.”

The proposed art will head to city council (likely at their Jan. 11, 2022 meeting) for final approval. 

During a different item on Monday’s agenda, commissioners were split on a change to an augmented reality installation. 

The item included using a different artist for the previously approved project and offering a stipend to the new artist to develop a proposal. 

Commissioners ultimately voted 5-0-1 in support of the project, with Kollenda abstaining.

“That’s the point of these conversations…where we can all bring forward the thoughts and concerns we’ve got,” Schwerner said. 

Kollenda expressed several concerns about spending the previously approved $20,000 on this type of art project, particularly $3,000 just for the new artist to develop a proposal but not actually create the artwork. 

There’s also some worry about how this unique type of artwork will be received. She referenced a similar musical project that required participants had to use a smart phone in order to interact with the piece. She wasn’t impressed with that project and it wasn’t very successful, Kollenda said. 

She also had concern that this is a different artist than previously approved. 

There was already a robust discussion on the overall project, which was approved unanimously by the Arts Commission, Schwerner pointed out. 

On June 14, the Arts Commission unanimously approved a temporary augmented reality installation for a period of up to 12 weeks with a budget not to exceed $20,000. 

The project would consist of the development and installation of a virtual artwork, that could be experienced at various locations in the city and will be site specific. With the download of a free app, the installation would be available and experienced differently at each site. 

Since approval, the Public Art Subcommittee has been working with the artist, however, the project did not progress as anticipated and the artist had other priorities, said Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl. 

“The Public Art Subcommittee took the project as far as they could with the artist that was identified, but feels it now would be better to proceed with this approved project with a different artist,” Poeschl explained. 

The subcommittee recommended the project continue with artist Nancy Baker Cahill. An example used by the previous artist during the June meeting was actually Baker Cahill’s work (an AR drawing titled Liberty Bell).

Baker Cahill is a new media artist and the founder and artistic director of 4th Wall, a free augmented reality art platform.

She has expressed an interest in developing a proposal for an installation in Laguna Beach. A stipend between $2,500 and $5,000 is required to start work on the proposal, Poeschl explained. The subcommittee recommended a budget of $3,000 for the artist to develop a proposal.

Other commissioners were excited about the high-yech art idea, echoing many of the comments made in June. 

It will go a long way for increasing the city’s presence in the national and international art world, said Commissioner Donna Ballard. 

“I’m super excited about her,” Ballard said. “She has the qualities that we’ve been looking for for this installation.”

It’s also an “entrée” into featuring art that is fresh, engaging and an increasingly popular way for people to interact with art, Schwerner added. 

“It would be an opportunity to engage new audiences,” he said. 

Some of Baker Cahill’s work is very immersive, noted Commissioner Michael Ervin. 

“You get drawn into some of the movements,” he said. 

They’ve already approved the overall project idea and he really likes this new artist, Ervin said.

Also on Monday, commissioners unanimously agreed to ratify the Banner and Palette Subcommittee’s recommendation for the Children’s Holiday Palette exhibitors. The winning kids presented their drawings at Tuesday’s city council meeting as well. 

Laguna Beach hosts an annual exhibition for Holiday Palettes designed by local children ages 5-17 years old. The selected designs have been mounted on small wood palettes and are on display at city hall through December.

City staff received 98 submissions, McGregor said. Subcommittee members reviewed all of them and recommended 12 winners. They tried to select artists from each age group, subcommittee member Karen Wood said. 

Commissioners were impressed with the kids’ artwork.

“These are some of the best palettes I’ve ever seen by the kids,” Suzi Chauvel said. “Really wonderful.”

~~~~~~~~

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


Council to select new mayor, mayor pro tem, discuss in-house ambulance program, property appraisal process, police vehicle and K-9s

By SARA HALL

Tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 14, Laguna Beach City Council will select a new mayor and mayor pro tem before considering another varied agenda, including: Switching to an in-house local ambulance transport service program, along with an increased ambulance transport service rate; an appraisal policy for real property acquisition; and accepting a donation to purchase two police service dogs and one police K-9 vehicle.

First up on the agenda, during some special business, is the annual changing of the guard for leadership on the dais. Council will select the mayor and mayor pro tem for 2022, as well as adjust the seating lineup. Currently, Bob Whalen serves as mayor and Sue Kempf as mayor pro tem. 

Also, during the agenda section for extraordinary business, council will recognize the winners of the Children’s Holiday Palette Competition and the Public Works APWA 2021 Projects of the Year.

During regular business, council will consider provision of local ambulance transport services

City staff is recommending approving a transition from contracting private ambulance transport service to providing a city operated in-house ambulance transport service, staffed and supported by the Laguna Beach Fire Department.

The resolution establishes rates for the provision of advanced life support service and basic life support ground ambulance transport service, increasing the city’s ambulance transport base rate fees, mileage fees and incidental materials fees. 

The item also includes a seven-year purchase agreement with REV Financial Services for three ambulances for an amount not-to-exceed $80,000 per year.

If approved, staff will report back to council in one year. 

Doctor’s Ambulance Service has provided the emergency transportation to the city since 1997, according to the staff report for the item. The service agreement will expire on June 30, 2022.

Council to select ambulance

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A Doctor’s Ambulance Service vehicle in Laguna Beach

On June 15, when council approved the city budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year it included $600,000 for future ambulance services, and, in a separate item, approved extending the agreement with Doctor’s until next year. 

Staff evaluated three potential service options for the future of this service: Establishing a city operated, in-house ambulance transport program; continuing to contract with a private company to provide the service; or turning over prehospital care service to the county. They considered the three options based on an increased service level of two dedicated ambulances (currently one) to reduce patient wait times, according to the staff report. 

An ambulance committee of LBFD staff was created to study the options and is recommending transferring to an in-house service.

Regardless of the service option council selects, city staff is also recommending increasing the current ambulance transport service rate from $965 to $2,800, in order to “significantly reduce or eliminate the need for a potential city subsidy,” for either a contract- or city-operated program. 

If approved, the rate increase would apply to commercial insurance, private pay and non-insured individuals. It would not affect costs for individuals who use Medicare or Medi-Cal, as those providers set their own rates for ambulance programs. 

LBFD responded to 2,344 emergency calls in 2020, with 1,447 of which were transported via ambulance to a hospital, according to the staff report. Of those nearly 1,500 annual transports, about 350-400 are provided by a secondary backup ambulance stationed at Mission Hospital. Because it’s not a dedicated ambulance, availability is limited, requiring an ambulance to respond from another jurisdiction, which has significantly prolonged the response time. 

Since July, LBFD has reported 40 cases of wait times of more than 25 minutes for a second ambulance to respond from outside the city.

“Prolonged wait times can harm the patient, tie up public safety, resources and impact the public,” the staff report reads. 

Compared to neighboring cities, Laguna’s number of transports and base rate is notably lower. San Clemente has the closest figures, with about 2,500 ambulance transports every year and a base rate of $1,098.

If council approves the staff recommended option of an in-house ambulance transport service, the city would purchase four ambulances (two dedicated in service 24/7) and each ambulance would be staffed with two city employed operators. 

In a chart listing the pros and cons of each option, staff notes that a benefit of the city operating its own service is that it would address the extended wait times for the second ambulance. It would also provide the most local control over the program, could more easily increase service based on community needs and provides more stability in the long-term. Disadvantages listed include potential for liability and that the city maintains the assets. 

Council to select Ti Amo property

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working to acquire the property at 31727 PCH, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

Also during regular business, Councilmember George Weiss is recommending the council direct staff to work with the city attorney to develop an ordinance amending the city’s municipal code to include purchasing procedures for real property acquisition. If a majority approves, council will consider the ordinance at a future meeting.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance would require the purchase, sale, leasing, or hypothecation* of any land, building, or real estate in excess of $500,000 be evaluated by a certified appraiser. The appraisal that must be done prior to the decision to buy or sell is made by council. For properties with a value of more than $1 million, council will have the discretion to require more than one certified appraisal.

“From time to time, the City of Laguna Beach has the need to purchase, sell, lease, or hypothecate real property for use by the city itself or the community,” the staff report for the item reads. “To assure that public funds are managed responsibly, it makes sense to require real estate appraisals when the city considers [these actions].”

An appraisal policy developed by city staff should specify qualification requirements for appraisers, for example meeting the standards of the Appraisal Institute.

If a council majority agrees to move forward, the new policy would replace or supplement policy 5-17, which currently outlines the procedures for the acquisition of city property, including section three regarding the appraisal process. Currently, policy 5-17 section three notes that a “qualified independent property appraiser” shall be retained for “significant purchases,” but does not address selling, leasing, or hypothecation, or a specific property value. 

“Having an appraisal done provides assurance that a proposed acquisition will not result in a gift of public funds,” the current policy section explains. 

Council to select LBPD Ranger

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy City of LB

Corp Fillers and K-9 Ranger, officers from local K-9 training group, and LBPD personnel at Ranger’s goodbye ceremony this summer

Earlier in the meeting, on the consent calendar, council will consider accepting a donation to purchase two police service dogs and one police K-9 vehicle. 

Bob and Bobi Roper, the Offield Family Foundation and the Crevier Family Foundation have offered a combined $146,300 donation to resume Laguna Beach Police Department’s K-9 program. 

The item includes a 2022 K-9 Ford interceptor not to exceed $46,000, plus related conversion costs not to exceed $47,000 and two trained police dogs from Adlerhorst International for $53,280.

Staff is also requesting the $146,300 be appropriated from the general fund, however, one-time costs to resume the K-9 program will be offset by the private donation. 

If approved, it will also include $16,000 in the proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget for ongoing care and maintenance of the two dogs. Currently, LBPD budgets $8,000 annually.

“Earlier this summer, the community lost a valued member of the police department when K-9 Officer Ranger passed away from cancer,” the staff report reads. 

Ranger joined LBPD in 2015 through community donations and became the third member of the department’s K-9 team. 

K-9s are a valuable resource for patrol officers since they provide several services and assistance, including: Aid in locating missing persons and lost children; assistance with the apprehension of fleeing suspects; and providing a quick and effective searching method for concealed narcotics. 

The well-trained dogs can also help officers quickly search buildings, room by room, and can often sense the presence of an individual who might be missed by an officer. They also help de-escalate certain situations with hostile or intoxicated individuals.

Also during the meeting, council will consider: The second reading of the code amendments related to regulations of accessory dwelling units; review councilmember appointments to various organizations and subcommittee assignments for any possible revisions or changes; an updated Tree Removal and Planting Policy for Public Trees; extending the emergency declaration related to COVID-19 for an additional 60-day cycle; and a resolution making the findings to continue virtual meetings of city council and city commissions, committees, boards and other bodies. 

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

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

You may also speak in person in Council Chambers.

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: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on December 13 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments 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. on December 14 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on December 14, councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting. 

*hypothecation (the process of agreeing to use an asset as collateral in exchange for a loan, according to Bankrate.)

~~~~~~~~

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


Council to select new mayor, mayor pro tem, discuss in-house ambulance program, property appraisal process, police vehicle and K-9s

By SARA HALL

Next week, Laguna Beach City Council will select a new mayor and mayor pro tem before considering another varied agenda, including: Switching to an in-house local ambulance transport service program, along with an increased ambulance transport service rate; an appraisal policy for real property acquisition; and accepting a donation to purchase two police service dogs and one police K-9 vehicle.

First up on the agenda, on Tuesday (Dec. 14), during some special business, is the annual changing of the guard for leadership on the dais. Council will select the mayor and mayor pro tem for 2022, as well as adjust the seating lineup. Currently, Bob Whalen serves as mayor and Sue Kempf as mayor pro tem. 

Also, during the agenda section for extraordinary business, council will recognize the winners of the Children’s Holiday Palette Competition and the Public Works APWA 2021 Projects of the Year.

During regular business, council will consider provision of local ambulance transport services

City staff is recommending approving a transition from contracting private ambulance transport service to providing a city operated in-house ambulance transport service, staffed and supported by the Laguna Beach Fire Department.

The resolution establishes rates for the provision of advanced life support service and basic life support ground ambulance transport service, increasing the city’s ambulance transport base rate fees, mileage fees and incidental materials fees. 

The item also includes a seven-year purchase agreement with REV Financial Services for three ambulances for an amount not-to-exceed $80,000 per year.

If approved, staff will report back to council in one year. 

Doctor’s Ambulance Service has provided the emergency transportation to the city since 1997, according to the staff report for the item. The service agreement will expire on June 30, 2022.

Council to select ambulance

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A Doctor’s Ambulance Service vehicle in Laguna Beach

On June 15, when council approved the city budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year it included $600,000 for future ambulance services, and, in a separate item, approved extending the agreement with Doctor’s until next year. 

Staff evaluated three potential service options for the future of this service: Establishing a city operated, in-house ambulance transport program; continuing to contract with a private company to provide the service; or turning over prehospital care service to the county. They considered the three options based on an increased service level of two dedicated ambulances (currently one) to reduce patient wait times, according to the staff report. 

An ambulance committee of LBFD staff was created to study the options and is recommending transferring to an in-house service.

Regardless of the service option council selects, city staff is also recommending increasing the current ambulance transport service rate from $965 to $2,800, in order to “significantly reduce or eliminate the need for a potential city subsidy,” for either a contract- or city-operated program. 

If approved, the rate increase would apply to commercial insurance, private pay and non-insured individuals. It would not affect costs for individuals who use Medicare or Medi-Cal, as those providers set their own rates for ambulance programs. 

LBFD responded to 2,344 emergency calls in 2020, with 1,447 of which were transported via ambulance to a hospital, according to the staff report. Of those nearly 1,500 annual transports, about 350-400 are provided by a secondary backup ambulance stationed at Mission Hospital. Because it’s not a dedicated ambulance, availability is limited, requiring an ambulance to respond from another jurisdiction, which has significantly prolonged the response time. 

Since July, LBFD has reported 40 cases of wait times of more than 25 minutes for a second ambulance to respond from outside the city.

“Prolonged wait times can harm the patient, tie up public safety, resources and impact the public,” the staff report reads. 

Compared to neighboring cities, Laguna’s number of transports and base rate is notably lower. San Clemente has the closest figures, with about 2,500 ambulance transports every year and a base rate of $1,098.

If council approves the staff recommended option of an in-house ambulance transport service, the city would purchase four ambulances (two dedicated in service 24/7) and each ambulance would be staffed with two city employed operators. 

In a chart listing the pros and cons of each option, staff notes that a benefit of the city operating its own service is that it would address the extended wait times for the second ambulance. It would also provide the most local control over the program, could more easily increase service based on community needs and provides more stability in the long-term. Disadvantages listed include potential for liability and that the city maintains the assets. 

Council to select Ti Amo property

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working to acquire the property at 31727 PCH, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

Also during regular business, Councilmember George Weiss is recommending the council direct staff to work with the city attorney to develop an ordinance amending the city’s municipal code to include purchasing procedures for real property acquisition. If a majority approves, council will consider the ordinance at a future meeting.

Specifically, the proposed ordinance would require the purchase, sale, leasing, or hypothecation* of any land, building, or real estate in excess of $500,000 be evaluated by a certified appraiser. The appraisal that must be done prior to the decision to buy or sell is made by council. For properties with a value of more than $1 million, council will have the discretion to require more than one certified appraisal.

“From time to time, the City of Laguna Beach has the need to purchase, sell, lease, or hypothecate real property for use by the city itself or the community,” the staff report for the item reads. “To assure that public funds are managed responsibly, it makes sense to require real estate appraisals when the city considers [these actions].”

An appraisal policy developed by city staff should specify qualification requirements for appraisers, for example meeting the standards of the Appraisal Institute.

If a council majority agrees to move forward, the new policy would replace or supplement policy 5-17, which currently outlines the procedures for the acquisition of city property, including section three regarding the appraisal process. Currently, policy 5-17 section three notes that a “qualified independent property appraiser” shall be retained for “significant purchases,” but does not address selling, leasing, or hypothecation, or a specific property value. 

“Having an appraisal done provides assurance that a proposed acquisition will not result in a gift of public funds,” the current policy section explains. 

Council to select LBPD Ranger

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy City of LB

Corp Fillers and K-9 Ranger, officers from local K-9 training group, and LBPD personnel at Ranger’s goodbye ceremony this summer

Earlier in the meeting, on the consent calendar, council will consider accepting a donation to purchase two police service dogs and one police K-9 vehicle. 

Bob and Bobi Roper, the Offield Family Foundation and the Crevier Family Foundation have offered a combined $146,300 donation to resume Laguna Beach Police Department’s K-9 program. 

The item includes a 2022 K-9 Ford interceptor not to exceed $46,000, plus related conversion costs not to exceed $47,000 and two trained police dogs from Adlerhorst International for $53,280.

Staff is also requesting the $146,300 be appropriated from the general fund, however, one-time costs to resume the K-9 program will be offset by the private donation. 

If approved, it will also include $16,000 in the proposed fiscal year 2022-23 budget for ongoing care and maintenance of the two dogs. Currently, LBPD budgets $8,000 annually.

“Earlier this summer, the community lost a valued member of the police department when K-9 Officer Ranger passed away from cancer,” the staff report reads. 

Ranger joined LBPD in 2015 through community donations and became the third member of the department’s K-9 team. 

K-9s are a valuable resource for patrol officers since they provide several services and assistance, including: Aid in locating missing persons and lost children; assistance with the apprehension of fleeing suspects; and providing a quick and effective searching method for concealed narcotics. 

The well-trained dogs can also help officers quickly search buildings, room by room, and can often sense the presence of an individual who might be missed by an officer. They also help de-escalate certain situations with hostile or intoxicated individuals.

Also during the meeting, council will consider: The second reading of the code amendments related to regulations of accessory dwelling units; review councilmember appointments to various organizations and subcommittee assignments for any possible revisions or changes; an updated Tree Removal and Planting Policy for Public Trees; extending the emergency declaration related to COVID-19 for an additional 60-day cycle; and a resolution making the findings to continue virtual meetings of city council and city commissions, committees, boards and other bodies. 

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

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

You may also speak in person in Council Chambers.

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: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on December 13 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments 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. on December 14 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on December 14, councilmembers may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting. 

*hypothecation (the process of agreeing to use an asset as collateral in exchange for a loan, according to Bankrate)

~~~~~~~~

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


Committee considers Thurston crosswalk safety, traffic improvements

By SARA HALL

A city committee unanimously decided to study several safety improvements at a crosswalk by a local school after a Laguna Beach police officer raised concerns for the location following some close calls between students and vehicles. 

Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee members voted 6-0 on Thursday (Dec. 2) to direct staff to evaluate eight recommendations as suggested by the traffic engineer to improve safety and traffic flow at the Park Avenue crosswalk at Thurston Middle School. 

The items will be noticed to the public and will return at the next PT&C meeting. The staff report will include a cost analysis for each option and the committee can decide to recommend one or more to city council for final approval.

The need for better traffic control and new safety measures at the crosswalk was brought to the committee’s attention by LBPD officer Matt Gregg, who requested a red flashing light device to assist specifically during the hours when kids arrive in the morning and get picked up in the afternoon. 

It should help control the flow of traffic and, hopefully, help reduce vehicle speed and prevent any injuries from occurring, he said. 

“My partner and I have done enforcement at the location numerous times and have seen kids almost get hit at that location multiple times,” Gregg said. “To be frankly honest, I’m surprised we haven’t seen a student hit there yet.”

Most of Thursday’s discussion centered around whether the flashing light should be red, as requested by Gregg, or yellow, as recommended in a follow-up letter from AGA Engineers, Inc., the traffic engineer company the city hired to review the crosswalk. 

Several committee members were on the fence between the two, but ultimately left the red-light option out of the approved motion.

“I’m a little conflicted between the red lights and the yellow lights, but considering I’m no [traffic] engineer I’m willing to go ahead with the proposal,” as described in the traffic engineer’s letter, said committee member Andrew Baxt. 

Although the committee may decide on a slightly different approach than what was requested, they should bring something to council in an effort to help, said PT&C Chair Lawrence Esten.

“The officer’s plea for help in this area is well taken,” he said. “It seems like a serious accident waiting to happen.”

 Gregg emphasized the safety concerns when he spoke to the committee on Thursday.

He’s seen vehicles speeding on that street while students are crossing. They’ve also received numerous complaints from the crossing guards, Gregg said. Vehicles often don’t obey or yield to the guards, even when they’re in the crosswalk with their stop signs up, he added, and they’ve nearly been hit a few times. There is a big turnaround with crossing guards at that location, he said, largely because of this issue.

Traffic flow is also a problem, Gregg added, particularly during the first few days of school when it’s essentially gridlocked.

“There have been a few times when we go to that location and traffic is completely backed up, mainly because of all the traffic that’s coming out of the school grounds,” he said. 

Committee considers Thurston crosswalk

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Thurston Middle School

In his proposal, Gregg requested red flashing lights be installed and activated only during the peak morning and afternoon hours, when kids are arriving or leaving school. 

An example of what he was requesting are the flashing red lights on Glenneyre Street, at the intersection of Cleo Street, which also has stop signs. They are not proposing actual stop signs by Thurston, Gregg emphasized, just the flashing lights.

He also confirmed that he was not proposing a solid red light like what’s by Laguna College of Art + Design, which was installed following a fatal accident in 2014. 

“Our proposal is to hopefully avoid a similar incident at Thurston,” Gregg said. “I pray that it doesn’t happen, but it could happen at any time there, unfortunately.”

These lights would be in addition to the crossing guards already in place, Gregg added. They are not proposing removing the guards already at that location, he confirmed. 

Depending on how the city wants to control it, they could give a key to the school to access it or have a city staffer go to the location every day to activate/deactivate it during peak hours, Gregg explained. The crossing guards could regulate or override the lights so they can be turned on and off as needed. 

City staff also had the location studied by a traffic engineer, who made several recommendations, but a flashing red light was not one of them, said Associate Civil Engineer Joshua McDonald.

“Because that would potentially create a stop condition, which they were not recommending,” McDonald said. 

A flashing red would temporarily create a stop condition during the school arrival/departure times, which the traffic engineer thought would create an inconsistent situation on the road and potentially cause more accidents, McDonald explained.

In the November 30 letter from AGA, Senior Design Engineer Ruben Perales recommended installing solar-powered yellow flashing beacons with programmable time clock units at advance school crossing sign locations for northbound and southbound traffic. The lights may help increase driver awareness during the peak school arrival and dismissal times, Perales wrote.

AGA Engineers also recommended the city monitor traffic during peak school arrival and dismissal times to identify use of the crosswalk at Hillview Drive. If needed, Perales proposed installing additional flashing yellow beacons at advance school crossing signs for both northbound and southbound traffic.

Perales also noted that speeding was observed due to the downhill grade on Park Avenue from vehicles traveling southbound towards the crosswalk. He recommended that police conduct periodic monitoring and patrolling of the area.

Committee considers Thurston map

Click on photo for a larger image

Art courtesy AGA Engineers/City of Laguna Beach

A map of the traffic engineer’s recommended changes

Some of the eight recommendations from AGA Engineers (which were ultimately approved by the committee for further study) include: Flashing yellow light warning signs, LED flashing signs at the crosswalk, striped “bulb-out” on the southerly side of the crosswalk, repainting the crosswalk and cutting back trees.

“It was their opinion that these options would be more preferable than simply a flashing/stopping red,” McDonald said.

While he understands the traffic engineer’s recommendations, Gregg still feels the more appropriate solution would be the red flashing lights. Essentially turning it into a stop sign during those busy hours when kids are crossing the street would help alleviate a lot of the problems, he said. 

The red flashing light also gives the officers more leeway in terms of enforcement, he said. 

“We actually prefer the flashing red,” Gregg said. “That flashing red device would actually allow us to do enforcement pursuant to vehicle code 21457 [fail to stop for flashing red] and it would actually make that intersection pretty much a stop sign intersection, just without the stop sign.”

According to the California vehicle code, a flashing red traffic signal light means the driver needs to come to a full stop and then proceed when it is safe. A flashing yellow traffic signal light warns driver to “proceed with caution,” meaning slow down and be alert before entering the intersection.

If people are confused, they could add signage explaining that it’s treated as a stop sign when the lights are flashing, Gregg suggested. People will get accustomed to the yellow lights and resume their bad driving habits, he added. 

Committee members also had questions about timing, if the lights are programmable, and how well they work compared to just crossing guards. They also raised some concern that if people are disobeying a crossing guard, they will likely disobey a red blinking light. 

Answering some questions, McDonald explained that speed tables are not typically considered on slopes as steep as Park Avenue and lowering the speed limit can’t be done without data from a focused speed survey and a recommendation from a traffic engineer.

The downside of the flashing red in that location is that it’s new and different and could be confusing, said Vice Chair Susan Shea. The yellow flashing light is pretty well known as a caution sign and most people driving in the area would likely know there is a school at that location, she added. 

Although both options have good points, she agreed with her fellow committee members to follow-up on the traffic engineer’s recommendations, including the yellow light. Something should be done to help improve safety, several committee members agreed. 

“If our police feel that this makes crossing safer for the children that go to Thurston Middle School, I believe them and I support it,” Shea said. “I don’t see any issues with it.”


Council approves flexible ADU ordinance

By SARA HALL

City Council last week approved a code amendment to repeal and replace the city’s Accessory Dwelling Ordinance to comply with state regulations and be more flexible for ADUs.

Council unanimously voted in support of the new ordinance on November 16, although there were some concerns, primarily about parking. Council previously reviewed an earlier draft version of the ordinance and made some recommendations to staff, it was then sent back to the Planning Commission, who suggested their own changes. 

It has come back more liberal than when they reviewed it earlier, Mayor Bob Whalen pointed out, mostly to comply with state law.

“It’s at a good point,” Whalen said. They can approve it “and see where it goes.”

It’s in compliance with state law and the city isn’t playing “catch up” anymore, said Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf. It’s a good ordinance, the key issue is the parking, she said, echoing several other councilmembers’ comments. 

There is a fear about relaxing the parking requirements in neighborhoods with narrow streets where there is already a concern about emergency vehicle access, she said. They spend a lot of time and money on studying fire prevention, disaster preparedness and evacuation planning because it’s a concerning issue in the city.

“If we make it too loose, we’re going to compound our problem,” Kempf said. 

Community Development Director Marc Wiener suggested adding a provision that gives the city the discretion to make a determination based on road access and available on-street parking. Councilmembers strongly supported the idea, which staff added into the resolution during the meeting.

By allowing more flexibility in parking exemptions, the city is being even more lenient and permissible for ADUs than the state, Assistant Director of Community Development So Kim pointed out. 

As of August, the city has approved 70 ADUs, Wiener reported. The average size is 506 square feet and most are created from converting existing structures, he added. Based off of that data and the recent uptick in applications, it could be several hundred over the next few years, he said, giving a rough guesstimate would be about 300-500 over the next three to four years.

“Based on what we’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was about that many units,” Wiener said. 

It’s important to note that these are the only units the city has approved in decades, aside from a few projects here and there, Wiener added. Even the 70 units is a lot more than what has historically been built in Laguna Beach, he said.

At a joint City Council and Planning Commission workshop on April 6, officials reviewed and provided input on the draft 6th Cycle Housing Element. The discussion included an ADU amnesty program, which could help bring currently illegal ADUs up to code and count toward the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which is 394 units for Laguna Beach’s current cycle.

The ADU program (program five in the Housing Plan section) in the draft Housing Element document is meant to ease restrictions on ADUs and provide incentives for their development or preservation.

Council approves flexible ADU ordinance

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

Houses in Laguna Beach 

In April, council reviewed the draft ordinance and gave direction to staff on modifications regarding the rental period for short-term lodging units, the maximum size allowed for ADUs and number of stories permitted. Given the number of changes, city staff brought the updated item back to the Planning Commission for further review. Commissioners made their own recommendations related to setbacks, architectural standards, elevated decks, upper story ADUs, location of ADUs, replacement parking requirements, secondary vehicular access and other development standards.

After council adoption, the LCP amendment will be submitted to the California Coastal Commission for certification. 

The November 16 agenda item also included appropriating $18,000 from the wastewater fund to perform a sewer rate study for ADUs. The city’s adopted sewer user charges do not include a rate for single-family residential properties with ADUs. A study is required to establish an equitable rate. Study results will return to the council for consideration and possible action.

Last week, Kim noted some general development standards, including that ADUs/JADUs are allowed on any lot zoned residential and that there is no minimum lot area required. 

There is also a provision that prohibits units from being rented for a period of less than 31 consecutive days. This was meant to match the short-term lodging regulations, Kim explained, as directed by city council. 

ADUs on lots located within a half mile walking distance are exempt from parking requirements. The public transit definition has been modified to include the trolley, Kim said. 

Although, the free on-demand transit service is not considered public transit because it’s a pilot project and there is no fixed route. 

The trolley runs every day throughout the year on a fixed route on Coast Highway, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis added, so it’s considered public transit because it’s on a fixed route with fixed stops.

State law allows ADUs up to 16 feet tall, which, in some circumstances, could accommodate two floors, Kim pointed out. A property owner could also first construct a second-story addition, which is permitted, then concert the addition to an ADU, which the state law mandates that the city allow. Kim explained that because of these allowances and mandates by the state, the city would not be able to limit ADUs to one story, as council previously directed. Instead, second stories are allowed, but ADUs taller than 16 feet are subject to the design review process. This will ensure that view equity and neighborhood compatibility are considered, Kim said. 

Regarding some council concerns of potential work-arounds, Wiener said that it will likely be pretty uncommon to be able to get two stories under 16 feet in height.

Kim also noted some future policy considerations to incentivize ADUs/JADUs, including a housing and sustainable development grant for the ADU toolkit project. It would report on financing tools and resources to assist property owners.

Much of the discussion revolved around parking, particularly regarding emergency vehicle access on already narrow streets. 

The original draft ordinance required replacement parking for ADUs on lots adjacent to roadways that are less than 20 feet in width (referred to as impaired roadways), Kim noted. But staff found that most of the communities in the city have impaired roads, making it very difficult to propose an ADU without providing additional parking, she said.

Planning commissioners were also concerned this would prohibit conversions of garages into ADUs, particularly if it’s not within the half mile transit radius, Kim said. 

“That was really the basis of where the removal of the replacement parking provision came from,” Kim said. 

The extra parked cars could create an issue with emergency vehicle access, several councilmembers pointed out. 

Whalen gave an example of converting a two-car garage into an ADU, going from two parking spaces to none. That’s not good for the community, he said. 

“I think we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to be facing – down the road – if there’s enough ADUs on a street, we’re going to be looking at banning parking on that street or one side of that street and go down to single side parking, and that’s going to raise all hell with people too,” Whalen said. “It’s a no-win situation, I think, in certain areas.”

There are a lot of impaired access roads in the city that aren’t 20 feet wide, Kempf pointed out. 

With the goal of making the requirements more flexible while considering the parking issues, councilmembers directed staff to add a parking requirement exemption for ADUs in neighborhoods with adequate free street parking, while ensuring it won’t impair emergency vehicle access.

After a brief break in the discussion to allow staff to make some changes to the language as directed by council, city staff returned with a few changes.

Regarding the parking concerns, staff added the language for an exemption if “the ADU is located on a lot within 100 feet of free on-street parking, in a neighborhood with adequate on-street parking supply, and does not degrade the existing emergency vehicle access as determined by the city.”

It was important to include language pointing out that it doesn’t degrade the existing emergency vehicle access, Dupuis noted. If the addition of the ADU degrades it further then the staff has the jurisdiction to deny it, she added. 

The final ordinance listed that parking exemptions include that no parking shall be required for any of the following or in any of the following circumstances:

–In connection with the construction of JADU.

–In connection with the construction of a converted ADU.

–The ADU is deed restricted as an affordable housing unit.

–The ADU is an ADA compliant housing unit.

–The ADU is located within one-half mile walking distance of public transit or within the Downtown Specific Plan area.

–The ADU is located within a structure listed on the California Register of Historic Resources or the city’s historic register.

–The ADU is located on a property within a locked gate community.

–On-street parking permits are required but not offered to the occupant of the ADU.

–A car share vehicle is located within one block of the ADU.

In another revision regarding nonconformities, staff added that “conversions or reconstruction of legal nonconforming structures to ADUs or JADUs shall not be required to correct nonconforming zoning conditions. Conversions of legal nonconforming structures shall be required to meet all current building, electrical and fire code standards.”

This would allow reconstruction to occur and maintain its nonconformance, Kim explained. 

The state mandates are tough to follow in a city like Laguna Beach, said Cory Engle, member of the Housing and Human Services Committee member and vice-chair of the ADU subcommittee. The committee supports the ordinance, he said. 

It is a frustrating problem that the state law doesn’t require that spaces be replaced if a garage is converted, Engle admitted, but if they try to limit it too much, it likely wouldn’t be approved by the state because it would discriminate against ADUs.

“We wring our hands,” he said. 

If parking is allowed on the street and the worry is regarding emergency vehicle access, one car defines that width, he noted. Whether it’s one car or 10 cars parked, the width needed by that emergency vehicle is defined, Engle explained. To control it, there needs to be regulations. 

Engle said the staff’s change was a great addition and the language works well. 

“This is a great ordinance,” Engle said. “It threads the needle between the state requirements and recognizing the community and what our needs are.”

There has been a lot of collaboration and productive discussions that led to this, he added. 

Other speakers supported the ordinance, noting that it meets state mandates but is still homeowner friendly. 

While other commenters raised a number of concerns, including parking issues, traffic congestion, the number of restrictions, exceeding the state mandates and considering it affordable housing when they likely won’t be affordable. 

Some members of council also mentioned the price of renting potential ADUs, which could be $2,000, was not exactly affordable. It fills the “moderate” housing numbers, staff noted. 

“Obviously the goal here is to create more units, I get it and that’s what Sacramento wants to do and needs to happen around the state,” Whalen noted, but looking at the numbers and estimated income needed to afford the rent, “these are certainly not affordable units.”

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: Editor@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc.

949.212.1499

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

© 2022 Stu News Laguna - All Rights Reserved.