Laguna Beach

City requests additional information about MacGillivray’s Digester proposal


City Manager John Pietig has received from Barbara and Greg MacGillivray additional information related to their proposal for the renovation of the Digester Building in the Village Entrance that he requested in a letter dated January 22. 

Pietig asked for a response from the MacGillivrays by February 5 in order to give staff sufficient time to evaluate their proposal and understand their commitment to the renovation of the Digester prior to the February 25 City Council meeting, on which it is tentatively agendized. 

The MacGillivrays have offered to donate $500,000 toward the restoration of the Digester to a usable condition. The city would be liable for an estimated $2 million of the restoration – about the same amount it would spend to demolish the building and related costs – according to the MacGillivray’s calculations. 

City requests digester

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Digester’s fate under consideration

Information requested by Pietig and partial responses: 

--Specific details and description of your proposed use of the Digester Building along with the square footage of the area proposed for that use.

Response: Plans call for using the building and surrounding grounds in a way that will add to the community and be sustainable for 99 years.

Our idea is to let Laguna Beach residents choose from five possible uses: a small café or retail, art gallery, and possible upstairs apartment, or office.

Uses would be code compliant and beneficial to locals. 

Estimated square footage was included in the response. 

--Parking analysis, identifying the parking spaces required for the proposed use, and identification on how the parking requirements will be met.

Response: Once uses are determined, we would, in concert with the city, agree on ways to meet parking requirements. It would be ideal to have four adjacent city-metered spaces reserved for customers. 

The MacGillivrays said they are open to discussion on this topic. 

--Details and timeline of the entitlement process you are proposing to pursue, including Environmental Impact Analysis, Coastal Development Permitting, Environmental Abatement, Historic Building Modification process, Conditional Use Permit, etc.

Response: Entitlements and permits should follow city guidelines. A schedule should be mutually determined and accepted by April 30. “Neither the city, its residents, the City Council nor we want the process to drag on,” wrote Greg MacGillivray. 

The Plan is to renovate the exterior quickly and maintain it while permits and historical alterations are agreed on. 

--Details of the cost estimate, identifying how your proposed project can be entitled and constructed within your proposed $2.5 million budget.

Response: Costs need to be prepared by design and construction professionals.

Specific proposed terms of the 99-year lease agreement, identifying roles and responsibilities for the entitlement, and permitting processes, and the construction phase of the renovation project, specifically identifying responsibility for permitting costs and any costs over your proposed $2.5 million budget. 

Response: The MacGillivrays expressed hope that permitting costs will be shared by the city.

“We want to help save this beautifully designed building, as do many other Lagunans, but we don’t want it to become a contentious issue,” wrote MacGillivray in his response to Pietig’s queries. “If the City Council, all of whom we support, decides it is not in the city’s best interests to save a Laguna landmark, we will be disappointed, but we will understand.” 

The full texts of the written exchanges are available in the City Clerk’s Office in City Hall. For more information call (949) 497-0309.

Planning Commission’s Wednesday meeting canceled

With only one item scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on Wednesday, the meeting was canceled. Meetings scheduled for February 19 and February 26 remain on the Planning Commission calendar. 

February 19 will be a special meeting for the commission to consider zoning code and General Plan amendments and input on draft amendments, but no recommendations will be made that evening, according to Planning Commission Chair Ken Sadler.

The City Council in April 2019 directed the Planning Commission to initiate amendments to sections of the General Plan, the Municipal Code, and the certified Local Coastal Plan related to defining major remodels and the oceanfront bluff tops, clarifying coastal development procedures and streamlining the discretionary review process.

Council direction stemmed from the efforts of the city staff to collaborate with the California Coastal Commission staff to rectify the different interpretations by the two agencies that has led to appeals to the commission and delays in reviews of Laguna Beach projects.

“I don’t know how they can come to consensus,” sad Sadler.

The agenda for February 26 meeting will include a review of the Historic Preservation Ordinance and the Urban Economist’s Report, which was originally scheduled for the canceled February 4 meeting.

-By Barbara Diamond

City Manager’s Updates

Temple Hills Drive Pedestrian and Pavement Improvements – Work to install a sidewalk on the east side of Temple Hills Drive, between Dunning Drive and Rim Rock Canyon Road, will begin the first week of February. 

Minor traffic impacts can be expected during the working hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. The project also includes street resurfacing and traffic calming measures as well. Construction is expected to be complete by the end of May. 

For additional information, contact Assistant City Engineer Natalie Chan at (949) 497-0741 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New Business Announcements – The City of Laguna Beach would like to welcome some of our new restaurant businesses to the City: The Wharf, located at 237 Ocean Ave, has opened in the former OC Craft Gastro Brew space and offers a seafood-focused menu with an Asian-Cajun fusion. 

Wild Taco, located at 188 South Coast Hwy, has opened in the former Johnny Rockets space at the corner of South Coast Hwy and Ocean Avenue. Wild Taco offers modern Mexican cuisine in a nautical-themed tavern with a festive vibe.

Coming Soon: Saigon Beach 2, offering a Vietnamese menu, located at 1750 South Coast Hwy (formerly Royal Thai Cuisine). Welcome to all our new Laguna Beach businesses!

City Managers Wild Taco

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Welcome Wild Taco to downtown Laguna 

Laguna Beach County Water District Work at Park Avenue – On Wednesday, Feb 5, between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Laguna Beach County Water District (LBCWD) will be performing street paving associated with previous water main work. 

The eastbound lane of Park Avenue will be closed between Through Street and Blumont Street. Detour signs will be posted alerting residents of the temporary lane closure. If you have any questions, contact Lisa Dunbar with the LBCWD at (949) 464-3119.

LEAD Alcohol Laws & Responsibility Training – The County of Orange Healthcare Agency and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce invite the public to a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Licensee Education on Alcohol and Drugs Program (LEAD) training session on Tuesday, March 10, from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach. 

The LEAD program educates businesses on laws involving the sale and service of alcoholic beverages. The curriculum is designed for licensees, managers, and employees. Last year, thousands of employees in California’s alcoholic beverage industry were trained in this program. 

Since 1991, the LEAD Program has trained over 200,000 people. “LEAD training provides practical information for responsible beverage service to the employees and staff of our local liquor establishments, so as a community we can prevent alcohol related crimes and deaths,” said Laguna Beach Police Department Captain Jeff Calvert. 

Participants must register before the class. To register, go to

Trimming Private Vegetation – Did you know? Parcels with a landscape plan approved through the Design Review process with maximum height limits established must trim trees in accordance with the conditions on the approved plan. 

The City suggests that property owners with questions about trimming trees and other vegetation on their property consult with a certified arborist who can develop a pruning plan and maintenance schedule specific to the species and age of the trees while considering the site conditions on the parcel.

Check Before You Burn – Have a fireplace? Check before you burn! Don’t burn wood when the forecast predicts unhealthy air quality. It’s easy to sign up for alerts so you know when it’s a “no burn day.” Find out more at 

Be Coyote Aware – Like most communities located in semi-rural areas, Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods have active coyote populations. Due to the brushy canyon areas and natural “den” type rock formations, our hillsides provide an attractive environment for coyotes and other animals. 

Usually the only threat coyotes pose is to pets that are allowed to run loose. Most attacks occur during the evening hours, but daytime incidents have been reported. Animal Services recommends that pets not be let outside during evening hours unless the owner is next to the pet to prevent a coyote attack. If you have any concerns regarding wild animals, or see a coyote in a residential area, please call Laguna Beach Animal Services at (949) 497-0701. You may also report coyote sightings to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

City Managers Coyote

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Photo by Les Miklosy

Residents are encouraged to be coyote aware 

Ask Laguna – Ask Laguna is a service the City offers as a way for residents and visitors to report concerns and make service requests to the City. It’s fast, free, and the easiest way to communicate directly with City Hall.

You can access Ask Laguna via the easy-to-remember link of To report an emergency or immediate safety concern, always call 9-1-1.

City Manager releases finance “Fact Check”

Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig issued a “Finance Fact Check” earlier this week to clear up some misconceptions circulating in the community about financial oversight in the City. The City has received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for its annual financial report for the past four years. This Certificate of Achievement is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting. To read the City Manager’s Finance Fact Check, and learn more about the City’s financial oversight, go to

Council to appoint members to six committees on Tuesday


The Council on Tuesday will interview candidates for six City committees and make appointments.

Appointments to be considered are for the Design Review Board and the Heritage, Recreation, Parking, Traffic and Circulation, Environmental Sustainability, and View Restoration committees.

Incumbents Caren Liuzzi and Meg Monahan are among the eight applicants for the two seats opening on the Design Review Board. Applicants include Jeff Feldman*, Jessica Gannon, Steve Jones*, Christopher Moore*, Mike Nazemi*, and Donald R. Sheridan.

Three applicants have applied for the two seats on the View Restoration Committee: incumbents Bob Earl and Jeff Feldman*, and Mike Nazemi*.

Seven residents are seeking appointment to the Heritage Committee, which has two open seats to be filled. Incumbents Regina Hartley and Scott Summer applied for re-appointment. Nia Evans*, Steve Jones*, Hemjo Klein, Glenn S Rosen, and Dan Rosenthal also applied.

council to parking

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee has three openings

The Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee has three openings. Applicants include incumbents Jennifer Dawson and Hasty Honarkar, Tyler Russell McCusker, Lauriann Meyer, Christopher Moore*, and Susan Shea.

Nine applicants have applied to be appointed to fill the three open seats on the Recreation Committee. The list includes incumbents Michele Hall and Monica Silva McCusker, Jenna Cassidy, Halley Cruz Corbett, Nia Evans*, Joe MacKay, Gwen McNallan, Victoria Rivett, and Phillip Smoker.

Four seats are open on the Environmental Sustainability Committee. Four incumbents are among the 10 applicants vying for appointment, none of whom applied for another committee.

The incumbents are Robert Ader, Mike Beanan, Shelly Bennecke, and Felix Desroches. Mina Brown, Steve Chadima, Ted Glickman, Daniel Lichtenberg, Brandon Ryan Menchaca, and Jan Welgan also applied.

*Applied for a seat on more than one committee.

Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce installs 2020 Board of Directors

Mayor Bob Whalen and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce installed the 2020 Board of Directors on Thursday, Jan 23 at the Marine Room in Laguna Beach. 

“Our Board of Directors come from diverse backgrounds and businesses in our community,” said Executive Director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold. “With the current challenges facing us, we are fortunate to have such an engaged group of people advocating for business in Laguna Beach”. 

Laguna Beach Marine

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Submitted photo

Chamber’s 2020 Board of Directors installed at Marine Room on Jan 23 

The chamber also awarded its first ever Chamber Champion award to Michael Kinsman. Kinsman took on the fundraising task of selling Pageant of the Masters tickets for the annual Chamber night at the Pageant, beginning about 11 years ago. In his time, it is estimated that he has raised in excess of $155,000 thereby seeding the chamber budget with much needed operating expenses at the beginning of every year. 

Michael also served in various capacities on the Chamber Board of Directors. He was president, vice-president, and treasurer. He was instrumental in rewriting the by-laws in his first year on the board.

Laguna Beach group

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(L-R) Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, J.J Ballesteros, Michael Kinsman, OC Supervisor Lisa Barlett, and Mayor Bob Whalen 

Kinsman is a partner in Kinsman & Kinsman, CPA and is married to former mayor Cheryl Kinsman. They are celebrating 50 years of marriage this year.

While Michael no longer serves on the board, he continues his involvement by selling Chamber Night at the Pageant tickets.    

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce has served the businesses of Laguna Beach since 1917 as a tool for promoting commerce and allowing members to connect to one another and the community. The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce’s core mission is to promote, represent, and support members of the business community.

If you have any questions or would like more information on the Laguna Beach Chamber, contact (949) 49401018 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

City Council to review trimmed Coast Inn project


A pared down project, but historically accurate exterior renovation of the Coast Inn, is scheduled to be reviewed February 4 by the City Council.

As requested by the council in a previous hearing, the project has been significantly trimmed. Use of a proposed rooftop deck pool will be restricted to hotel guests and exterior renovations will match the historic design approved and recommended by the city Heritage Committee, including variances for the proposed historical features. The previous submittals for the project were opposed by members of the public and revisions were required by city officials.

“How do you oppose a project that preserves a historic landmark?” queried Coast Inn owner Chris Dornin, a born and bred Lagunan.

BLUR PLATES City Council to review 1

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

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The Coast Inn project is scheduled to be reviewed by City Council on February 4

Dornin’s first proposal was heard by the council in January of 2018. The application included a proposal to remodel the historic property, adding restaurants, a rooftop deck with a bar and swimming pool, renovation of rooms, and restoration of the Chris Abel-designed, mid-century modern Coast Liquor store across Mountain Street from the hotel.

“This is a developer purchasing a property then exploiting historic preservation loopholes in order to maximize and intensify usage,” said resident Randy Lewis at the council hearing. “This is an attempt to pound a round peg into a square hole.”

Dornin, who bought the Coast Inn in 2012, objects to being characterized as a developer. 

“I am a real estate investor,” said Dornin at an interview on Saturday that included architect Marshall Ininns.

Dornin has made two exceptions: the Louis Longi Artist Live/Work project in Laguna Canyon and the Coast Inn.  Both projects have been opposed by members of the public.

“A difference of opinion is fine, but I don’t understand [differences] morphed into a concentrated effort to misdirect the facts,” said Dornin. “The only reason to fight this project is to keep the vacant existing properties that might draw people to town.”

Village Laguna, among those opposed to the original submission, has made no decision on the current proposal.

“We haven’t talked about it yet,” said Johanna Felder, president of the group. “We are waiting for the staff report.”

Much of the public opposition to the original proposal was based on fears of increased traffic on South Coast Highway in the area of the hotel. However, the results of a traffic study indicate the project would have no significant impact on traffic, according to Ininns, who has been working on the project for six years.

City Council to review 2

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Coast Inn project has been significantly altered according to architect Marshall Ininns and owner Chris Dornin

Lack of sufficient parking was another issue. However, the parking demand has been significantly reduced from the previously submitted project by the elimination of the public rooftop bar and restaurant and limiting the use of the proposed pool to hotel guests. No parking or traffic intensification will be created, Ininns said.

Laguna’s Heritage Committee awarded the hotel an E for Excellent rating as a historical resource. One of the perks of the rating is a reduction of up to 75 percent in parking spaces. However, Ininns said no reductions are being requested.

The previously proposed restaurant and deck above the beach also have been eliminated and the rear of the building will include only hotel rooms and a guest-only deck.

Requested variances from the building code have been reduced to three, Ininns reported. As proposed, the structure would exceed the maximum height limit if the city approves the replacement of historical features such as the turrets, signage, and flagpoles. Open space required by the city has never been required at the hotel, which opened in 1927.

Secondly, the turret will house an American Disabilities Act-compliant elevator that will serve the hotel lobby, rooms, and the rooftop deck, but will require a variance for the height from the lower floor level of the elevator to the top of the tower, Ininns said.

A variance is also needed for the lack of open space on the project, a requirement never imposed on the site. The hotel also has no conditional use permit.

City Council to review 3

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

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The Coast Inn has been in existence for nearly a century, with 24 hotel rooms currently in operation and an existing permit that allows an occupancy of 640 in the bar and restaurant

The Coast Inn has been in existence for more than 89 years. It is currently operating with an 85 percent occupancy of its 24 rooms and paying the city the required bed tax. Bear Flag Fish Co. signed a lease to operate the 6,203-square-foot Boom Boom Room.

“If the project is denied, we could open the Boom tomorrow; it just won’t be as pretty,” said Dornin. “It has all the approvals.”

Existing permits allow an occupancy of 640 in the bar and restaurant. Dancing and live music have permits.

“The hotel and restaurant space will remain mostly in its current form and layout that exists today,” said Ininns. “We are working with the granddaughter of the original owner of the hotel, Poppy Smith, to honor the history of Laguna Beach.”

The plan also is to retain the Garden of Peace and Love preserved by the city in remembrance of the lives lost to AIDS.

“I think this project is right for Laguna,” said Ininns. 

The staff report on the project will be available to the public on Thursday when the agenda for the February 4 city council meeting is posted on the city’s website at

Council approves increase in campaign donations


Donors to candidates for city offices may dig a little deeper in their pockets, starting this year.

The City Council unanimously approved at the January 21 meeting to take no action on an increase to the base amount for allowable donations of $360 that went into effect in 2010. However, the council did approve an $80 increase, based on Consumer Price Index increases over more than a decade, raising the total contribution limit to $440.

Adjustments to the limit can be made in January of each even-numbered year, based on changes to the CPI for the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area. Increases are rounded up to the nearest $10.

The city’s municipal code requires the council to review the base amount every four years since the applicable ordinance was passed in 2008. The council made no adjustment in the base amount and opted not to apply the CPI adjustment in 2012 and 2016.

Former City Council candidate Paul Merritt found fault with the agenda item and called for all the council members to recuse themselves from voting.

Merritt apparently wanted more parity between donations by individual supporters of candidates and donors to Political Action Committees, which are not limited. Federal election laws, not local law, govern PACs.

Merritt filed a lawsuit, which the court dismissed because the judge was unable to determine a substantive or legal basis for the suit, according to City Attorney Philip Kohn.

“However, the judge did give Mr. Merritt leave to file an amended lawsuit to better explain what he wants,” said Kohn. “He has until February 20.”

City Manager’s Updates

Ensure Home Address Visibility Have you recently painted your house? Not trimmed your landscaping for a while? The Fire Department would like to remind residents that addresses for homes need to be visible from the street so that city personnel can find you when you call. 

Addresses should be at least 4” in height, not covered by landscaping, be of contrasting color to the house, and hopefully illuminated at night. If you have a mailbox, ensure your address is posted on both sides of the box, not just one. Firefighters, police officers, and ambulances may respond from both directions.

Emergency Kit Backpacks Available for Purchase – A Laguna Beach-specific Emergency Kit Backpack is now available for purchase. The kit includes the following: AM/FM hand crank radio with flashlight and cell phone charger, 4-in-1 gas and water utility shut off tool, glow sticks, bio-hazard bags, nitrile gloves, N95 mask, 54-piece first aid kit, duct tape, emergency poncho, solar blanket, and a personal hygiene kit. 

Additionally, the kit contains emergency plan templates and disaster-specific information. Each red backpack features an official City of Laguna Beach Seal. 

You can purchase the Laguna Beach-specific Emergency Kit Backpack for $50 on the City’s website via or in person at the Community and Susi Q Center, 380 Third St, during normal business hours. No profits are being made from the sale of this backpack. Let’s get prepared!

City Manager's backpack

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Emergency Kit Backpacks now available for purchase for $50 

Crown Castle Fiber Optic Installation – From January 27 to March 27, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, Crown Castle’s contractor, Panoramavision, Inc., will be installing underground fiber optic cables along portions of Wendt Terrace, Park Avenue, and Alta Laguna Blvd. 

The fiber optic work is associated with Verizon small cell sites approved by the City’s Planning Commission. The project will be conducted in phases to minimize the impacts to residents. Traffic flow will be maintained during the project; however, minor traffic delays will occur in isolated areas with the use of flaggers to direct traffic. 

For questions or concerns, please contact Crown Castle at (951) 433-5130.

SCE Pole Replacements – Southern California Edison (SCE) will be working in two areas of town next week:

Pole Replacement by Helicopter – On Monday, Jan 27, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., SCE’s contractor, Pro Energy Services, will be replacing a utility pole located in the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. 

The pole is located approximately 4,000 feet southeast of Moulton Meadows Park. A helicopter will be used to remove and replace the pole. The landing zone and staging area for the helicopter will occur within the wilderness park approximately 2,100 feet north of Moulton Meadows Park and adjacent to the emergency fire access road. The emergency fire access road will remain unobstructed during the work. 

For questions or concerns, contact Pro Energy Services at (760) 504-8127.

2299 Crestview Place – On Thursday, Jan 30, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., SCE will be replacing a utility pole located near 2299 Crestview Place. A small portion of Crestview Place will be closed in the vicinity. Signs will be posted alerting residents of the temporary street closure. 

For questions or concerns, contact SCE’s Customer Service number at (800) 655-4555.

The City Council is accepting applications for Committees, Commissions and Boards – Spots are available on the Recreation Committee, Design Review Board, Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee, Heritage Committee, Environmental Sustainability Committee, and View Restoration Committee.

Interviews and appointments for these positions will be conducted on Tuesday, Feb 4 by the City Council in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave. Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on one of these committees should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or online from the City’s website at and file by Friday, Jan 24 at 5 p.m. The application on the City website is interactive and you are encouraged to fill in the application online. 

Questions may be directed to the City Clerk’s office at (949) 497-0705. Applications will not be accepted after the January 24 deadline.

City employees, elected officials subject to conflict of interest statutes


California’s Conflict of Interest Statutes are based on the belief that a public official cannot serve two masters simultaneously, and that the duties of public office demand the absolute loyalty and undivided, uncompromised allegiance of the individual that holds the office.

The city is obliged to provide an updated list of employees and elected officials required to file under the statutes every two years.

Laguna’s City Manager, City Attorney, City Treasurer, Deputy City Treasurer, and members of the City Council all are on the list.

Those officials have a mandated manner in which they must disqualify themselves from decisions made at a public meeting, including closed session decisions, and must publicly identify a conflict of interest, and leave the room before the item is discussed. 

A public official has a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision if it is foreseeable that the decision will have a financial impact on his or her personal finances or other financial interests. 

According to the ethics code, under those circumstances, there is a risk of biased decision-making that could sacrifice the public’s interest in favor of the official’s private financial interests. To avoid actual bias or the appearance of possible improprieties, the public official is prohibited from participating in the decision.

An official with a disqualifying conflict of interest may not make, participate in making, or use his or her position to influence a governmental decision. 

Not all conflicts of interest prohibit a public official from lawfully participating in government decision:

--The Public Generally Exception 

A public official is not disqualified from a decision if the effect on the official’s interests is indistinguishable from the effect on the public. 

--Legally Required to Participate 

In certain rare circumstances, a public official may be randomly selected to take part in a decision if a quorum cannot be reached because too many officials are disqualified under the Act. 

Public officials are advised to seek legal advice on whether the exception applies in their case.

A full list of city employees and elected officials with filing responsibilities is available for review in tonight’s agenda on the city’s website at

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