Residents want a level playing field

While the Chamber of Commerce is a vital part of our community, it is not representative of the majority of Laguna’s residents. In fact, in my opinion, the Chamber represents a small share of our total resident population.

Why is it then that the “State of the City” address is given as part of a fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce? It sounds as if Chamber members and their guests are more important than the rest of Laguna’s residents. Unfortunately, doing a State of the City presentation at a Chamber of Commerce event gives the impression to some that the Chamber has an outsized influence on Council’s decisions for our community – perhaps even dictates those decisions. For example, the City has prioritized new development projects at the top of its Strategic Projects as the City with the support of the Chamber. I don’t believe that the majority of residents would share fast tracking development as the most important strategic goal of City Council. 

A large number of residents feel that local government isn’t responsive to their needs. We heard from residents at past Council meetings of how they’ve become frustrated by their experiences with Design Review. We have also heard complaints that special interests, like some developers, seem to get special treatment, such as accelerated design and planning review for large projects – for a price. There’s a perception that the City removes large development projects out of the normal planning and design review process, such as the Coast Inn project being reviewed by the City Council instead of the Planning Commission or Mo Honarkar’s development projects being removed out of the normal review process, it seems.

There’s also a concern about too much money spent without fiscal caution. There’s the painful fact that the City spent millions of dollars as a result of mistakes on projects like the Llewellyn property, which is likely to be mirrored with the future liability from building permit approvals of the Katz project. A level field is made askew when those who formerly worked for the City or served on City Boards or Commissions, use their connections for the benefit of their clients and themselves by acting as consultants.

Here’s a suggestion. We have all heard about “Town Hall” meetings. These are held by elected officials to share ideas, answer questions, and solicit the views of residents during hours when voters can attend – at similar times as City Council meetings. These meetings can be held at the Artist Theater or other venues at low cost.

City Council might be surprised to learn that residents of diverse political views want the same thing from Council: direct communication with residents, greater transparency, and accountability.

We can do better than this. It has to start with setting a level playing field, which takes residents’ views into account instead of marginalizing them. Let’s work to keep all residents involved and informed. It is all of our community. 

George Weiss

Laguna Beach