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Laguna Beach

Making Laguna Safer

Imagine having to walk the same route along a dangerous highway every day just to reach the nearest bus station. There are no sidewalks, just a white line separating you from the rest of the road; one misstep could end in disaster. And, further down this perilous road, bus station accommodations are meager and unsafe, leaving you exposed to the unbridled rays of California sun or to pelting winter rains. These are the conditions that some Emerald Bay workers face every day.

Between Emerald Bay and Irvine Cove, there are no sidewalks. Workers without a vehicle of their own must make the dangerous trek up the road in order to catch a bus out of town, squeezing into the bike lane to avoid a run-in with one of the many cars speeding by only feet away. The lack of appropriate sidewalks, along with the local tendency to ignore speed limitations, contributes to a daily threat to commuter safety. An ever-evolving city, Laguna Beach proves it has the means to carry out construction projects with the clamorous sounds of hammers and bulldozers that can be heard on almost every other corner. Adding a sidewalk to this road is a simple solution to a long-standing problem. 

The same bike lane that these workers share with cyclists has proven fatal in past years, yet no change has occurred since. In 2014, a 55-year-old cyclist was rear-ended along Coast Highway near Emerald Bay and passed away from the collision later in a local hospital. Despite a show of sympathy provided by the community, the road was left untouched by possible improvements to travelers’ accommodations. Incidents of this nature have become common ailments to the local California region, which had seen 45 other roadside accidents before this one within the same year.

In addition to the issue of inadequate sidewalks, many Laguna Beach bus stops are lacking. The station on the northbound side of Coast Highway near Irvine Cove fails to offer such routine furnishings as a bench. As of today, the “bus station” is merely a sign stuck into a small piece of sidewalk. Workers in the area have to stand while they wait for the bus when a bench could be easily added for their benefit. While building a bench is not a necessity, it would be a simple addition to make many hard workers’ lives more comfortable each day. Why shouldn’t we help the people who come into our community to work and to make it a better place?

In addition, these bus stops offer no shelter, so the commuters have no protection from the elements. Adding an overhang would be relatively inexpensive compared to other projects the city takes on, and it would not impede upon any views. Like many other functional aspects of the city already, the overhangs could be designed to contribute to the artistic charm of Laguna Beach and to add an element of beauty to the highway. 

With all things considered, adding sidewalks and improving bus stations would make Laguna Beach the best it can be in terms of protecting those who make it a beautiful place. 

Gretchen Webb & Emily Thomas

Laguna Beach

Blame Coast Highway

It’s not Coast Highway’s fault that temporary lane restrictions slow traffic. It was built to be a continuous four-lane highway for traffic between Los Angeles and San Diego. We all know that’s an idea long gone. Instead, now we have 40,000 commuters per day using it as express lanes to work. Few are stopping to purchase something in Laguna Beach – well maybe some stop for a quick cup of coffee to go (of course they can match the Indy 500 pit stops)!

Why not get a better solution instead of a bandage? Everyone in town screams for peace and quiet that embraces our artistic values and local business owners.

Laguna Beach could and should own Coast Highway, and for that matter county-owned Aliso Creek parking. With that accomplished you could drop one lane, have two directional lanes (one each way) and a center lane for left turns and trolleys. You might want to expand the center lane to accept limos delivering paying customers to our many hotels. What lane footage remaining should allow angle parking not parallel parking. That would get wild acceptance from all the youngsters that never learned how to park parallel next to a curb!

What about the mighty 40,000 non-Laguna Beach citizens? Don’t worry. When they lose one lane, they will seek other ways to get to work – like the toll road or other four lanes that accommodate the need for speed.

Dennis Myers

Laguna Beach

Koala bears, eucalyptus trees, and the bike rack at the city entrance

I recently heard that scientists have discovered that koala bear milk/blood has natural peptides which enables them to ingest eucalyptus leaves, which are toxic to humans and most animals but not to koalas. They are pursuing this fact to find out if they can use the milk to help cure some human diseases. These scientists have developed a special tweezers to “milk” koalas. One scientist said that milking a koala is like trying to shave a bear with a pencil sharpener. They can milk about a thimble full at a time.

While reading this I thought about the many reports about the large number of sea mammals, especially seals and whales, recently found on our shores. I wonder if the eucalyptus trees in our town – many shedding leaves onto streets and then down drains to the ocean where the toxicity is mixing in with the ocean waters – are contributing to this? Even those eucalyptus trees that are not close to ocean – their leaves pile up on yards, etc. and with all the rain we have had, the toxins have seeped into our soil and eventually the rain further washed the toxins into the soil onto our streets and to the ocean. We certainly have an overabundance of these trees and few people can keep up with the many leaves that they shed, also bark. Perhaps we should rethink the role that eucalyptus plays in our ecosystem in Laguna – just the fact that these trees are highly flammable, have shallow roots, drink so much of the ground water, are prone to falling, and many people are allergic to the oils  – is reason enough.  If they do contribute to put toxins into the ocean and these lovely sea creatures are getting sick from it – is it worth it? Not in my book.

Also, regarding the bike rack at the new walking area by the city entrance. Over the years I have only seen people driving into town and parking in this area, download their bikes from their vehicles and bike around. Then they come back, reload their bikes and leave or go get something to eat or a cup of coffee. Hopefully people will use these bike racks – the last two Saturdays I noticed that people were continuing to park, unload, and reload. 

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

Support STLs for locals

Attention locals. On Tuesday, June 4th, the City is proposing another ordinance banning short-term lodging (“STLs”) in all residential zones. The ordinance approved three years ago banning residential zone STLs was rejected by the Coastal Commission. Now the City wants to horse trade banning STLs in residential zones by allowing residential units in all “commercial mixed zones” to convert to STLs, heavily concentrating STLs in those areas, instead of diffusing STLs throughout 10 square miles and 24,000 population. 

Unless your home is there, sounds ok right? Look deeper. The City says by opening this zone, 734 “existing residential units” could be converted to STLs. Look deeper – a huge potential loss of affordable housing. Laguna’s affordable housing –

apartments – are primarily located in these zones. We walked the 734 units. We know. By concentrating permissible STLs, the City is green-lighting conversion of hundreds of lower income/affordable housing apartments to STLs, sacrificing them in the name of “saving” the occasional residential neighborhood STL from exaggerated fears of a few. By also waiving parking or density requirements, the City is piling on in already heavily congested areas, like Glennerye, where only street parking is available. That’s a cluster fiasco.

Think. Since September of 2017 has there been an “explosion” of neighborhood STLs? No, less than 15 permits approved in three years, and anyone could have applied for a permit. The fears were greatly exaggerated then, as now. But the naysayer NIMBYists will be back Tuesday to “roar their terrible roars, gnash their terrible teeth, and roll their terrible eyes,” to demonize all residential STLs, even if it sacrifices affordable housing in this town.

Solution? (1) Don’t hyper concentrate STLs and reduce our limited affordable housing; and (2) craft an ordinance permitting homeowners who live here to home-host STLs in any zone, owner on premises, with strong rules and hefty violation fines. This won’t sacrifice affordable housing, and will permit Laguna locals to home-host visitors and families seeking a more affordable home setting. It can be done. Permits could limit the number of days and duration, require on-site parking, no-noise hours, etc., and be renewed annually to eliminate serial offenders. Enforcement would be more than offset by the lodging tax collected, and locals would benefit from increased tax revenues and a little extra spending money. It’s a win-win.

Show up June 4th. Ask the Council to reject the proposed ordinance, protect affordable housing, and be reasonable.

Jennifer Zeiter

Laguna Beach

We believe board member Carol Normandin-Parker committed character assassination of honors students at the May 28th meeting

Board member Carol Normandin-Parker calls the cost of giving students in honors classes extra weight for their more rigorous class the cost of entitlement. 

We have a sitting board member who has insulted every former and current honor student by labeling them entitled. Students who would like the credit they deserve for taking the much more advanced class. These students who are at the most formidable years of their young lives have taken a blow from a school board member who has pledged to act in their best interest. My child, a former student of LBHS, was sincerely hurt to hear Carol’s statement that deemed her past coursework inadequate and labeled her entitled.

At the very least, Carol Normandin-Parker owes students past and present and the parents who support them an apology for her callous remarks.

Anne Morreale

Laguna Beach

Recap of School Board meeting on Tuesday, May 28

We would like to thank all the people who came out to speak and listen to the district’s presentation on Tuesday evening. The grade weighting issue is very important to many Laguna Beach students, parents, former students, and residents who know that excellence in our schools helps the entire community.

Our petition, maligned by the board president as being filled with illegitimate signers and duplicates, has been reviewed and over 75 percent of the signers are verified – no duplicates. Perhaps the concern of the board president is that there are more people out there who are concerned not only about the board’s decision-making on this issue, but several other issues as well.

On Tuesday night we asked that the board review its policy on grade weighting, especially for freshman year honors courses. Currently, there are some honors courses that have been submitted, and some are pending approval by UC. If approved, the honors credits will be weighted retroactively for two years. While the board is working to add more UC-approved honors courses, the process has been bumpy at best. Allowing the weight to be stripped and then to select honors courses for UC approval piece-by-piece is confusing and chaotic for most, but for the students even more so.

One of the most incredible parting comments was made by board member Carol Normandin regarding the cost of weighting grades: “I know you guys say there’s no cost to giving them a grade bump, but there is, there is an entitlement cost. If these kids don’t have resilience they are going to fall apart…” Needless to say, many parents were disappointed by her negative sentiment and assumptive conclusion about how resilient and motivated many of our kids really are.

The board made their presentation with the vote for action declined 4-1. Board member Dee Perry was the only one who voted in favor of reviewing the policy consistent with her previous voting record in 2016 on the subject of honors course grade weighting. New board member James Kelly, who during his campaign originally answered “yes” when asked if he supported reinstating the grade bump, voted with the majority to not review the current policy.

If you missed the meeting in person you can still find and watch the video on the LBUSD website – agenda item #13 – at the link here.

Amy Kramer

Laguna Beach

Revised Short-Term Lodging Ordinance

In support of the revised Short-Term Lodging Ordinance:

We should not be deceived by the argument that allowing short-term lodging in a residential neighborhood will help keep the wolf from the door of some poor property owner who just needs a little extra income. I think we are more likely to see the transformation of family homes into an investment asset by speculators who know the math of jacking up rents by the day or week is a bigger return on investment than renting by the month. This is especially true in a beach community that spends an extraordinary amount of money to attract even more tourists than the city can handle now.

It has been shown that the availability of long-term housing diminishes in municipalities where the Airbnb business model moves in. It is not surprising that Airbnb is worth about 38 billion dollars with over 5 million hosts all over the world, according to sources. Their value depends on maintaining and accumulating more. To characterize these short-term rental properties as anything but pure commercialism is to ignore this fact. They are income producing entities without the controls that apply to similar business platforms.

It used to be said one’s home is “their” castle. Our residential neighborhoods provide the heart of our community. Neighbors that have made long-term commitments to raising families, paid taxes, and have earned equity in the place they live should not have to watch their neighborhoods disintegrate into tourist fun zones for the sake of an easy buck.

C. Penney Hall

Laguna Beach

South Laguna traffic mess

There has been a big traffic problem in South Laguna caused by closure of a lane on northbound Coast Highway south of Nyes Place for construction of driveway improvements for the new planned jazz club (former Tabu Grill location). The Council approved this project conditioned on their enlarging the driveway to 15’ and apparently the jazz club owners are in the process of doing that. First step is moving the fire hydrant.

They have been closing one northbound lane for the past two weeks from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and traffic is often backed up to Aliso Creek – sometimes even further south.

Since the City is issuing permits for this project the City should require that they have an approved traffic management plan, including manual traffic control. Also there is a median available that could be coned off so that two lanes of traffic can still go through.

They should not have permission to close a lane of traffic without providing mitigating measures.

This is a huge problem for us in South Laguna and there is no justification for a private business to cause this inconvenience to thousands of people on the highway.

Ann Christoph

Laguna Beach

Be a greeter

The City of Laguna Beach’s Be A Greeter Program is a great idea. I haven’t had a car since 2003 and so I ride the city’s blue and white buses, trolleys, OCTA buses, and Sally’s van and sedans for seniors. Often at bus and trolley stops or on board, I see visitors and locals trying to figure things out. Many visitors have never been to our town before. When I offer to help, they are always thankful and add a positive note to my day.

The city’s greeter pledge says: I ______ pledge to follow the Greeter Principles by being friendly, welcoming, open-minded, and respectful. I will greet people with a smile. I will have the compassion not to be a bully, and the courage not to be a bystander. I will make a positive difference in my community. Signature ______ Date ______. 

Luckily I have lived here and met three of our four acknowledged greeters. Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman who greeted stagecoaches in the 1880s came long before my time, but Eiler Larsen, our second greeter, was a great man greeting strangers and friends with a mighty hello! Number One (his legal name) was our third greeter who always reminded locals and visitors with his famous welcome, “You are perfect.” Today, our fourth greeter is Michael Minutoli who does a friendly dance and jig, adorned in his sailors cap.

Where else in the world do you come into a town and have a greeter on the curb wishing you well along with hundreds of local residents who want you to feel welcome?

Be a Laguna greeter. You’ll love it.

Roger Carter

Laguna Beach

Coming together as a community for a better Laguna Beach

By Lea Abel-Stone: 39 years in Laguna Beach, 4th generation Laguna resident in support of a better Laguna Beach for the next generation.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Diversity and the Creative Economy Symposium organized by Chris Tebbutt of the Laguna Beach LGBTQ Cultural and Heritage Alliance. It was wonderful to see Laguna Beach and Orange County community members and leaders across all fields come together to discuss how we can join forces to promote prosperity for all. In the current political climate, marked by negativity and division, it was refreshing to see many in our community are looking to keep dialogue alive.

For these reasons, I’m grateful for all the people who put time, energy, and dollars behind this event. Throughout the morning, we had the opportunity to hear from many of them, including title sponsor Bank of America, who has been championing various initiatives to promote inclusion and diversity. We also heard from Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella, who spoke about her department hiring officers with diverse backgrounds and how this enables her team to better represent and build closer relationships with the people it serves. Laguna Beach Company Founder and CEO Mo Honarkar shared how he fell in love with the city of Laguna Beach, which welcomed him with open arms back in the ‘80s as an international student from Tehran, Iran. He talked about his aim to revitalize and beautify distressed properties in the city and to collaborate with community members of all points of view to create spaces that everyone can enjoy. 

One of the key takeaways from keynote speaker urbanist Richard Florida is that Southern California has become the nation’s most unequal metropolitan area, ahead of New York and even San Francisco. Sadly, Laguna Beach is not exempt. While a large percentage of our residents are thriving and prospering, another large chunk is driven out of town by the high cost of living and rent. These are our teachers, our police officers, our small business owners, and younger generations. We are losing this talent, and this is hurting us. Those people are the lifeline of our beloved city and we need to make them a priority if we want Laguna Beach to have a bright and prosperous future. We need to make them feel welcome and come together to find solutions to ensure they can and want to continue living and working in Laguna Beach.

One solution is to provide more housing, especially affordable housing. Many in Laguna Beach are strongly opposed to any type of development arguing that it will ruin the unique character and charm of Laguna Beach. Ironically, lack of development is having this exact same effect. Some properties and parts of the city are falling into disrepair because development is so complicated and not only is it hurting the aesthetic of the city, it’s also hurting small businesses, including many artists and art galleries, which are the cornerstone of our city.

I do not support development at all cost, and I agree that preserving Laguna’s character is a priority, but I also I feel that both are not irreconcilable. At the event, Mo Honarkar talked about his desire to beautify and bring back distressed properties to their former glamor and grandeur, and I think that this is what we need to strive to achieve. We need to build off of our rich cultural heritage to reinstate Laguna Beach’s status as a Southern California cultural and artistic destination, but also a place where artists, small businesses, and others who contribute to its prosperity can thrive.

Lea Abel-Stone

Laguna Beach

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