Three Facts About The Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative

By Michael Morris

It’s no secret that many developers and business interests are spending lots of dollars to defeat the Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative (BI); the only insurance policy that gives residents the right to vote on intensified or new large commercial projects in Laguna Beach.

To that end, much misinformation has been disseminated. The misinformation campaign suggests progress would grind to a halt and voters would be subjected to endless special elections. That is false based on other cities’ experience with similar measures and based on the ability of developers to adapt to reasonable boundaries. It is also false due to discretionary powers built into the ballot initiative. Here are three key facts to set the record straight:

Fiction: Parking requirements would be rigid and untenable.
Fact: Parking requirements are clearer with some discretion afforded to the Planning Commission.

The BI gives discretion to the Planning Commission in the area of parking. The Commission is empowered under the BI to grant historical, sidewalk, and grandfathered credits which haven’t been claimed prior to Dec. 31, 2020, provided that commensurate public benefit can be demonstrated and it can be shown that there is no impact to parking and noise in adjoining neighborhoods. Such determination may be appealed.

Also, the Director of Community Development is empowered to determine the “reasonably necessary number of parking spaces” for business-types that are not explicitly enumerated. The Director is to apply the parking requirements of the use-type that most closely matches the one being considered.

Fiction: Building height variances even for standard roof-top items would require a vote.
Fact: The BI grants discretion in the area of building height maximums for certain rooftop items.

There is discretion granted to the Design Review Board (DRB) in the area of building height. The BI states, “the following items may be permitted to a height in excess of that permitted within a zone in the BLOZD when approved by the DRB; structures for the sole purposes of housing elevators, stairways, tanks, ventilating fans or similar equipment.”

Fiction: New or intensified projects that create 200 or more average daily vehicle trips would require a vote.
Fact: The BI only cares about projects that increase daily trips by 200 or more but gives discretion to the Director of Community Development.

Some discretion is granted to the Director of Community Development when a project is trying to qualify as “minor modification of a major development project”. In the area of Average Daily Trips, one of the criteria of being a “minor modification” is that it “does not worsen traffic by causing more than a negligible increase in average daily trips, as determined by the Director upon consideration of the specific use of the modification”. This discretionary determination can help a small project avoid triggering a vote by being deemed a “minor modification”.

The drafters of the LRF Ballot Initiative recognize that the best smart-growth measure is one that encourages commercial progress in-line with resident interests, while not placing a burden on city staff or voters. Granting of discretion to the Planning Commission, Design Review Board, or city staff helps to achieve this goal.

Michael, a Laguna homeowner, is a founder and former treasurer of Laguna Residents First PAC. He previously served a one-year term on the Orange County Grand Jury and as an appointed trustee to the Orange County Vector Control District.

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