The Laguna We Want

By Michele Monda

I’ve been reading the columns and letters from those opposed to the Laguna Residents First ballot initiative. They are filled with inaccurate information and falsehoods intentionally intended to spread fear and cause residents to reject the democratic concept that residents should have a say in their own town.

The attempt to label this ballot initiative as a work of Village Laguna, those “horrible people who want to see the town stagnate” is just another shameless canard put forth by developers and investors who stand to personally profit from its defeat.

Laguna Residents First is a nonpartisan grassroots group of residents who want to see Laguna be the charming, small town that we all moved here for.

Opponent developer Joe Hanauer, developer Michael Ray, tourist business owner Billy Fried, and others seeking financial gain, all want residents to believe that the ballot initiative will stop development in town. What developer would come to Laguna? Every project will have to be voted on. Residential properties are involved. All blatantly not true.

As it currently stands, residents have absolutely no say in the development of Laguna Beach. It all rests on the whims of City Hall. Period.

Consider the recent approval of a downtown beer-and-fast-food chain restaurant that’s going to increase capacity by 30% without adding a single additional parking space.

As the owner of this site put it, “People forming long lines to get into the place are great. DUIs, big noise come with the business.”

So, is turning Laguna into a crowded destination for drunk tourists the kind of thing City Hall, investors and developers are eagerly rushing to endorse? Is this the kind of town residents want?

In counterpoint, the ballot initiative would give residents a right to vote on what Laguna looks and feels like without leaving it up to the arbitrary and capricious City Council, the council-appointed Planning Commission, and the council-appointed Design Review Board. Or the whim of the City Manager and staff—all whom seem biased towards developers—one in particular.

Mo Honarkar has been given preferential treatment on major projects: the unpermitted work at the Festival of Arts that the City approved two years after the infraction, the Brown Act violation of lifting four stop work orders at the Hotel Laguna, allowing work to start (and finish) at the Hotel Laguna without an overall plan. The City Manager and staff are making many detrimental decisions with no public input or proper vetting. Again, is this what residents really want?

Private homes are one thing, but they are not the target of this initiative; large commercial projects that will change the look and feel of Laguna for decades to come is.

We need balance that comes with resident input. I trust residents to decide—not just three pro-business, pro-tourist, pro-developer controlling votes by city councilmembers whose campaigns have been funded by the well-financed developer PAC Laguna Forward (formerly Liberate Laguna).

The Initiative supporters are for development—compatible development, resident-centric development. This is our town—not the tourists’. We are happy to share it with them, but to exclude resident concerns, compound parking problems, and add more traffic—as is currently happening—no thank you. We want developers to be mindful of residents and to be a responsible resident partner.

Those against the ballot initiative say they are OK with the 36-foot height limit and no block-long monolithic development like what Honarkar proposed for the Museum Hotel. But those can all be changed by whim of the City Council. And what the developers say publicly today is often undercut by what they say and are doing behind the scenes.

The only check residents have on a biased City Council is to vote. In the two years between elections, a council can do tremendous damage to the community. Residents need this ballot initiative as a balance.

If developers know in advance that any project needs to include resident concerns or face a public vote, they will consider these concerns.

Both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa have similar ballot Initiatives. Costa Mesa, in five years, has never had to vote. Newport Beach, in 21 years, has had to vote five times. Despite their initiatives, there is thriving development going on in those cities. So, it is another false statement to say developers will not come to Laguna.

The fear and dread that those against the ballot initiative are spreading through misinformation is stunning. This initiative only deals with 750 feet from the centerline of Laguna Canyon Road, Coast Highway and the downtown commercial area. This deals with large developments, with not changing Laguna into what we now see in Dana Point. Is there any resident who wants that look for Laguna?

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