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Council holds special workshops to deal with complex issues

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council took action at the April 23 meeting to appease critics who complained that workshops on complex issues held at 3 p.m. were unfair to folks who work and cannot attend.

A special meeting on 5G telecommunications installations, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., prior to the May 7 meeting, was moved to the end of the interviews of applicants for city committees and appointments to be held that night. The afternoon meetings had been scheduled to avoid late night hearings of special interest to large segments of the residents at a time when the council might not be at its best, after a 5 p.m. start with the closed session.

For all those who missed the meetings in which they had an interest, here is a recap. 

Financial Assessment Workshop

A five-year financial assessment workshop was held prior to the April 16 meeting. The one-hour-and-40-minute workshop included an assessment of the city’s revenues and expenditures for the next five years and recommended strategies to deal with budget gaps, rising pension costs and unforeseen glitches, while maintaining the city’s current service levels.

The council unanimously approved six policies, adding one** to the five which were recommended in the presentation by Gavin Curran, director of Administrative Services.

Approved policies to help guide the city manager and staff in preparing and managing future budgets:

--Review and consider increasing Community Development fees every two years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Review and consider increasing other city fees every four years to keep pace with inflation and account for changes in service

--Consider establishing an Information Technology reserve for the replacement and repair of critical IT infrastructure

--Review existing cash reserves for possible internal refinancing of pension liabilities

--Incorporate items in future five-year financial assessment presentations based on feedback from the council

--Recirculate revenue alternatives that were discussed by the subcommittee

“It is important to stress that the financial assessment is a forecast, not a budget; and projected budget gaps or shortfalls are not the same things as a budget deficit,” said Curran.

The regular meeting was adjourned at 11:35 p.m. 

Significant Development Projects Review Process

Five major commercial projects and one residential project are in the pipeline and city staff wanted to ensure as much as possible that no unnecessary clogs would impede the development and entitlement process. 

Staff recommendations were presented at a 3 p.m. workshop prior to the April 23 council meeting. All of the projects are being developed by Mo Honarkar.

The projects include hotels, the Hive in Laguna Canyon, development of the Central Bluffs from the Hotel Laguna to Legion Street and a vacant parcel at the entrance to Canyon Acres.

Based on the city’s previous experience with the major development of the Montage and Treasure Island Park, the council appointed Mayor Bob Whalen and Councilwoman Sue Kempf as a subcommittee to work with staff and the applicant on a Memorandum of Understanding and a Development Agreement for Honarkar’s projects. 

The council also approved the staff recommendations to hire consultants to provide legal expertise and prepare the agreements with Honarkar, evaluate project impacts, identify potential public benefits and assist in the review of project economics. 

Consultants included Elisa Stipkovich, a 45-year resident of Laguna with 40 plus years of experience working on development agreements and MOUs; La Quinta City Attorney Bill Ihrke, a partner in Rutan & Tucker, LLP, City Attorney Phil Kohn’s firm; and Keyser Marston Associates, Inc., a company that has been advising cities on real estate, economics and finances related to development projects for more than 40 years.

The council also approved negotiations and implementation agreements to recover 100 percent of the costs of the experts and legal fees from Honarkar and to establish a system to recover all city development-related costs to process the proposed projects.

In March, the council directed staff to include a new position of senior principal planner in the upcoming two-year budget. Recruitment is underway.

Among the benefits staff feels can be derived from the proposed projects are the preservation of Hotel Laguna and bed taxes from the renovated icon as well as from the proposed Cleo Hotel and possibly what is called the Heisler Project. Not to mention property taxes. 

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said the Canyon Acres project should be reviewed and processed separately because it is the only residential component of Honarkar’s proposed projects.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:02 p.m.

Up Next

The third of the three special presentations will be held May 7, but at the end of the meeting, not the beginning.

Fire Chief Mike Garcia will make a presentation on small wireless installations referred to as 5G sites and other new technologies. The presentation will include a discussion on the impacts and opportunities of the deployment of 5G small cell sites in town.

Under duress by federal laws, the City Council adopted at the April 16 meeting a resolution to update the Guidelines for Site Selection, Visual Impact and Screening of Telecommunications to create a comprehensive set of design criteria for small wireless facilities.

Had the council chosen not to adopt the guidelines, the city would have defaulted to the government regulations pertaining to the facilities, certain portions of which are related to design criteria and took effect April 15. City staff expects worldwide deployment of 5th Generation wireless infrastructure to begin in 2020, with 5G phones currently on the market. 

Asked how much discretion the city has, City Attorney Phil Kohn said, “The short answer is very little.”

There will be even more 5G installations than the current number, according to Associate City Planner Anthony Viera. Neighborhoods that have undergrounded their utilities might see new poles installed, he said.

“I hope we well be hypervigilant about this,” said Councilwoman Toni Iseman.