By David Raber, Co-Founder of Laguna Residents First
The group that put together the LRF Ballot Initiative started by looking carefully at Laguna Beach – not through the eyes of commercial real estate developers – but rather through the eyes of Laguna residents. Residents are here for a variety of reasons: to raise a family, or start a career, or retire from a career. There are many different reasons for living in Laguna, but we all have something in common. We bought into a place that we feel strongly about and that we all love. We also gladly paid a premium to spend our days in this wonderfully special place that we all call home.
When we travel through other towns in Southern California it is easy to see the contrast between what is there and what is here. We see and understand the vision that commercial real estate developers have for towns like Newport Beach, Irvine, Dana Point, Marina Del Rey, Brea, and Huntington Beach. Perhaps larger-scale redevelopment was needed in those towns. Laguna Beach looks and feels different to residents. We know that it is worthwhile putting common-sense guidelines into place that allows the town to evolve with the times, but also with a deep respect for the scale and aesthetic that is essential to the unique value of Laguna to residents, merchants, restaurateurs, and visitors alike. There are a myriad of overdeveloped coastal cities, so why add Laguna to the list if we don’t have to?
Mr. Hanauer views the LRF Ballot Initiative as a set of burdensome “Tripwires” designed to ensnare developers. Actually, the Ballot Initiative is a set of guidelines so developers can clearly see the opportunities for development that are in touch with the unique human-scale premium value we have here in Laguna. Smart people can make money in most any situation as long as there are a clear set of rules that are uniformly enforced.
The Ballot Initiative’s guidelines are for large-scale commercial development. They cover six areas: building height, parking, gross floor area, traffic, lot size, and the overall cumulative impact. These are the common components of universal land-use laws. We are not inventing any wheels here. The fact that there are often multiple dimensions to land use laws is no odder than the multi-dimension space we use when evaluating food, wine, entertainment, politicians, or automobiles. Using automobiles as an example, there are criteria we all have for efficiency, durability, safety, design, range, maintainability, comfort, handling, and capacity. Would anyone have patience with an auto manufacturer who whines about the public “unfairly” wanting competence in all of these areas?
In the case of height limits and parking requirements, the LRF Ballot Initiative’s guidelines are codified directly from regulations that have been in place here for decades but which are now being liberalized by City Council. The remaining guidelines were the result of a thorough analysis of specific commercial sites in Laguna Beach, the results of capacity planning studies that the City has commissioned, discussions with land-use experts and urban economists, and a review of successful resident-initiated ballot initiatives that have been enacted in places like Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
Each of the guidelines was carefully analyzed for its impact on proposed and future projects. Building size, for example, requires that entirely new commercial buildings (apartment buildings, retail, restaurant, or any combination of those) need to be less than about half the size of the old Hotel Laguna. Think about it. That is still a very large new building. Isn’t that about the size of something that would be at the outer limit of the Laguna look-and-feel? These are all common-sense guidelines.
The proponents of the LRF Ballot Initiative stand behind the carefully designed guidelines that comprise the LRF Ballot Initiative.
We encourage Mr. Hanauer, as well as the other responsible developers who have set their sights on new development projects in Laguna to re-read the LRF Ballot Initiative. Rather than try to convince us that developers would be better off with a free reign on redeveloping Laguna, consider the alternative. First, look for existing properties in town that could be renovated rather than scraped. The LRF Ballot Initiative welcomes the renew-and-reuse of existing properties. Second, when scraping and rebuilding is necessary, bring reasonable projects to the table that fit within the guidelines. Your efforts will be rewarded two-fold. First, you will be doing the right thing for all of us who love Laguna. Second, your properties (and everyone’s properties here) will be worth more in the end because everyone is following the guidelines that are designed to keep Laguna, Laguna, and retain the unique value that Laguna brings to those who live and visit here.