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Council directs staff on Downtown Specific Plan, focus on housing above commercial, requests 3D model of visual impact

By SARA HALL

City Council this week heard about the proposed changes to the Downtown Specific Plan update and shared feedback on the plan, which is aimed at providing more permissive development standards to allow for affordable housing, particularly on the second story of commercial buildings.

Councilmembers provided direction to staff on the recommended DSP phase II amendments and key comments focused on consideration of expanding the Downtown Specific Plan boundaries, decouple parking, incentivize smaller size units rather than affordability requirements, provide 3D modeling to show the visual impact of possible changes to development standards, have the environmental impact report address development up to three stories (except in the lower Forest Avenue area), and set a specific maximum density.

Mayor Sue Kempf commented that the older one-story buildings on the north side of lower Forest Avenue should be left alone.

“The scale of the Downtown is a lot about what happens on lower Forest. That’s kind of the entrance to our Downtown,” Kempf said. “Plus, it’d be a nightmare to redevelop those buildings anyway. It’d cost a fortune, the water table is pretty much right there…you start tearing up the Downtown, the closer you get to the ocean, the more problems you’re going to have.”

There are taller buildings on the south side of the street, but the north side should be “off limits,” she said.

Overall, there was support on dais for the general direction that staff was going with the project.

This is the beginning of a long process, Councilmember Bob Whalen said, and there will be plenty of opportunity for input and refinement. They really need to look into this deeper and gather input and evaluation, he commented.

“The right topics are being looked at here,” Whalen said. “A good report with, I think, a very thoughtful initial approach.”

Councilmember George Weiss also supported the overall direction of the effort, “but with some reservations about what it would look like,” he said. He echoed concerns raised from the public and his colleagues about keeping the character of the Downtown and not allowing for over-development.

Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi noted that there are a number of second story apartments in Laguna Beach that are above commercial uses that are “consistent with what Laguna’s all about,” but yet they’re illegal to build in certain areas under the current zoning.

“Really, I don’t think that we’re changing the Downtown. I think what we’re doing is living up to the potential of what our town is about, which is a creative artist colony, not just being governed by fear and being scared about change,” Rounaghi said.

Council directs staff on Downtown Specific Plan downtown

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working on phase II changes to the Downtown Specific Plan update

Council decided in 2019 to complete the comprehensive update to the DSP in two phases, Viera explained. The first phase was adopted in 2020 and implemented in 2022, and it included streamlining of the business permitting process and new parking standards for non-residential uses. The housing, building height, and parcel merger components of the DSP update were bifurcated, to be addressed separately and in coordination with the housing element update as phase II. The housing element update was completed and certified by the state in February.

Staff prepared an outline of the draft phase II updates and presented it to council this week, which is part of the process to prepare an environmental analysis.

Some of the key updates in phase II of the DSP include changes to height restrictions, changes to maximum residential density, changes to lot merger regulations to allow for affordable housing, changes to the urban design guidelines, changes to the allowed uses, and changes to parking requirements.

Perhaps the most significant component of the phase II update is the proposed changed to building height restrictions, said Principal Planner Anthony Viera. While the city is encouraging non-residential uses on the ground floor of most areas in the Downtown, an increase in the housing stock would mostly need to come from units created on the second and third floors.

Existing code that restricts buildings in the Downtown to a 12-foot height limit “is a significant impediment to adding residential density,” Viera noted.

“This is a preliminary analysis based on our observations and expectations for how taller buildings can maintain the visual character of the Downtown,” Viera said, displaying a map illustrating where two and three-story building heights would be studied. “In the interest of maximizing future housing opportunities, we wanted to start our exploration of this topic with a somewhat optimistic assumption of what the Downtown can accommodate without compromising on the pedestrian orientation or aesthetic qualities of the area.”

Staff will be working with a consultant to develop photo realistic renderings that test the assumptions and showing how the changes could alter various areas of the Downtown.

Density is another key change, Viera continued. Currently, housing density is limited in most cases to one unit per 2,000 square feet of lot area. Staff is recommending no maximum density in most areas of the Downtown.

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Kempf named 2024 mayor, Rounaghi as pro tem

By SARA HALL

In the city’s annual changing of the guard meeting this week, Laguna Beach City Council selected Sue Kempf as the 2024 mayor.

Councilmembers voted 4-0 on Tuesday (Dec. 12) for Kempf to move into the role for the upcoming year. Councilmember George Weiss abstained. In a separate vote of 5-0, Alex Rounaghi was chosen to serve as mayor pro tem.

This is Kempf’s second term as mayor, previously serving in the role in 2022.

“It’s an honor to serve our community as Laguna Beach Mayor,” Kempf said in a prepared statement shared by the city on Wednesday. “Together with my colleagues on the City Council, we look forward to 2024 and our continued partnership with residents and business leaders as we all strive to make Laguna Beach a better place to live, work and visit.”

Kempf named 2024 mayor Kempf and Rounaghi

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Photos by Mary Hurlbut/Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Newly selected 2024 Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi

Although Weiss didn’t comment on his reasoning for abstaining from the vote, he recently raised an idea to rotate the mayoral role, which failed to find a majority of support and did not move forward. The item was before the council on November 21 as a request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

Kempf is succeeding Councilmember Bob Whalen as mayor. Whalen previously served in the position as mayor in 2015, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

“It’s always an honor to serve as mayor, no matter whether you’ve done it once or more than once. It’s a great responsibility, something I take very seriously, and I’ve worked hard at to represent the community well,” Whalen said.

He contributed, everyone on the council helped with most of the projects listed in the proclamation, he added.

“It takes a team,” he said. “I’m really pleased to be working with this group of colleagues. I think we’re doing some good things and making some really good progress for the community.”

It is a responsibility to act as mayor, Whalen said, as the primary spokesperson for the city.

“I’ve always done my best to approach it with a sense of optimism and try to project what the city is, which I think is a well-run organization that has a lot of employees who work very hard every day to make this place go. None of us is perfect, but it’s really a team effort,” Whalen said.

They work hard and deserve a lot of credit, he added.

After some rearranging on the dais, Kempf read a proclamation for Whalen, commending him for his service as mayor in 2023.

He’s had a lot of accomplishment over the years, Kempf commented. He has diligently and passionately pursued issues of importance to the community and provided leadership regarding numerous projects and issues, Kempf read from the proclamation. Whalen worked collaboratively with his fellow councilmembers while addressing a number of issues and represented the city with dignity and respect, she added.

During public comment, a couple of speakers acknowledged Whalen for his service and thanked him for being professional, pragmatic and respectful.

Chair of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club Peggy Wolff said that through his three terms as mayor, Whalen has been a councilmember the community can be proud of with his “steadfast, thoughtful leadership style.” He has set an example for others to emulate, she added.

Barbara McMurray commented that Whalen has been a steady hand at the helm of the city’s government. He knows how to run a meeting and is always “polite, measured and calm.”

“I appreciate your calm demeanor, even when things get heated,” McMurray said.

Whalen has worked to make the city better, continuing to serve with grace and dignity as a civil servant, she added.

Later in the meeting, they appointed councilmembers to various organizations and committees. Some of the groups include Festival of the Arts board of directors, the League of California Cities OC Division, the Southern California Association of Governments, the South Orange County Association of Mayors, Laguna Art Museum board, Coastal Greenbelt Authority, Laguna Canyon Foundation and liaison appointments to the various city committees.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

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Community Development Director highlights commercial property and housing programs, hotel projects that are in the works

By SARA HALL

A community meeting last week focused on the commercial property and housing programs, and highlighted a number of hotel remodel projects that are currently in the works in Laguna Beach.

The LB Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee held their monthly meeting via Zoom on Thursday (Dec. 7) with Community Development Director Marc Wiener as the featured speaker. Nearly two dozen people attended online.

He shared the “30,000-foot overview” of business-related programs and projects in the city.

Wiener highlighted a new commercial property maintenance ordinance that is scheduled to be reviewed by the City Council in early January. Over the last nine months, staff worked with the Chamber on the program and have already done quite a bit of outreach on it, he added. It’s going to establish some code enforcement procedures that include the ability to require property owners to upgrade the appearance of their building, like putting on some fresh paint, fixing broken windows, or enhancing the landscaping.

“We’re not necessarily asking the property owners to get their properties in pristine condition, but there is a minimum standard and a certain level of quality the city would like to see,” Wiener said.

They’ve already targeted 20 to 30 properties where it could be implemented right off the bat, he noted.

The city is looking for ways to incentivize the program, he added, and staff is planning to recommend to the council that they look at reducing fees for any work that comes in, to get permits to correct the violations, and they also want to set up a recognition program for the property owners that have upgraded their buildings. They’re also looking to bring on a code enforcement officer who would focus on the program and help get it up to speed.

“I’m really excited about this program. I think it has a lot of potential to improve the aesthetics and the town as a whole,” Wiener said.

The program is slated to be placed on the Jan. 9, 2024 council agenda.

Community Development Director Wiener

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Community Development Director Marc Wiener

Wiener also noted that Phase II of the Downtown Specific Plan is on the agenda for the December 12 council meeting.

During the first phase of the program, the city relaxed permitting requirements and parking standards to try to help promote more business and less vacant spaces in the Downtown, he explained. It also established other design standards and guidelines.

Phase II will look for opportunities to allow for housing in the Downtown, he explained.

Currently, throughout most of the Downtown, there’s a one-story, 12-foot height limit that makes it very difficult to do any housing over a commercial building or at the site at all, he explained.

“So we’re going to be looking to increase the height limits to some extent in some of the areas of the Downtown. We’re really trying to create that opportunity (for housing). It’s important for individuals who work in the city and are looking for some lower-cost housing options – apartments are generally more affordable and these smaller units are more affordable than single-family houses – but also having individuals that live in the Downtown, they’ll help support the businesses,” in the area, Wiener said. “I really see it as a win-win. We’re going to be approaching it with the view that we want to maintain the character of the Downtown, we want to keep the Downtown special and what it is; but also create some opportunity for housing, for some level of change.”

Community Development Director highlights Promenade

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The city is working on making outdoor dining and the Promenade on Forest permanent, as well as updating the Downtown Specific Plan

Wiener also mentioned that the Planning Commission approved certain housing-related amendments on December 6, which are primarily focused on affordable housing. It’s going to look to reducing some of the barriers to building new housing units in the commercial and mixed-use districts throughout the city, he explained.

The proposed ordinance would amend portions of the Laguna Beach Municipal Code in accordance with state housing laws and the city’s housing element. The changes include a new chapter for the city’s inclusionary housing policy and new provisions related to density bonuses, single-room occupancy units, transitional and supportive housing, low barrier navigation centers, reasonable accommodations, home occupation/work-live standards, and lot consolidations for senior and affordable housing projects. The amendments would also modify the development standards and parking requirements for the residential component of mixed-use projects in the city’s commercial zones (outside the Downtown Specific Plan area) to improve the feasibility of infill housing projects.

Part of the reason Laguna Beach doesn’t have much residential above commercial and mixed-use is because the city’s zoning code makes it very challenging to do so, in terms of development standards and parking requirements, he explained. As a result, after several decades of having these restrictive policies in place, there are less housing units being built in these zones.

“What this is going to do is reduce some of the barriers to that, make it more feasible, make it more financially feasible for developers to build those units above commercial uses,” Wiener said.

Staff plans to bring it to council in February 2024.

There are a few upcoming projects he’s excited about in the Downtown, Wiener said.

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Changing of the guard on council agenda, also consider Downtown plan phase two, reduce permit fees for outdoor dining, upgrade to public safety records management system

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council has several notable items on the agenda for tonight’s meeting, with the highlight of the night being the annual changing of the guard, as the councilmembers select a new mayor and mayor pro tem.

At tonight's meeting (Tuesday, Dec. 12), council will consider: A new mayor and mayor pro tem; appoint councilmembers to various organizations and committees; introduction to the Downtown Specific Plan update, phase II changes; a reduction of temporary use permit fees related to the extension of the outdoor dining and parklet program; an upgrade of the public safety records management system; the Environmental Sustainability Committee 2024-25 workplan, and a request to consider the Housing and Human Services Committee’s recommendation to establish a local housing trust fund.

Changing of the guard on council agenda council

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Tonight, council will select a new mayor and mayor pro tem for 2024

At the beginning of the regular meeting, during extraordinary business, council will recognize outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen and select a new mayor and mayor pro tem for the upcoming year. Council will also decide on an updated seating arrangement of the dais. The outgoing and new mayor and mayor pro tem typically share some remarks as well.

The ceremonious event is a bit more notable this year following a recent contentious discussion regarding an idea to rotate the mayoral role, which failed to find a majority of support.

The item was before the council on November 21 as a request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

At the November meeting, Whalen, who has held the position of mayor five times over the last six years, confirmed that he won’t take on the position for the upcoming year.

Later in the meeting, council will appoint members to various organizations and committees and ad hoc subcommittees, and consider or make any changes to appointments, as desired.

The organizations and committees include Festival of the Arts board of directors, the League of California Cities OC Division, the Southern California Association of Governments, the South Orange County Association of Mayors, Laguna Art Museum board, Coastal Greenbelt Authority, Laguna Canyon Foundation and liaison appointments to the various city committees.

Changing of the guard on council agenda Promenade

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council will consider Downtown Specific Plan updates and reducing the temporary use permit fee the outdoor dining and parklet program

During regular business, council will hear an introduction to the Downtown Specific Plan update, phase II changes.

Council decided in 2019 to complete the comprehensive update to the DSP in two phases. The first phase was adopted in 2020 and implemented in 2022, and it included streamlining of the business permitting process and new parking standards for non-residential uses. The housing, building height and parcel merger components of the DSP update were bifurcated, to be addressed separately and in coordination with the housing element update as phase II. The housing element update was completed and certified by the state in February.

Staff prepared an outline of the draft phase II updates for council’s review tonight, which is part of the process to prepare an adequate environmental analysis.

The aim is to provide more permissive development standards for affordable housing. Some of the key updates in phase II of the DSP include changes to height restrictions, changes to maximum residential density, changes to lot merger regulations, changes to the urban design guidelines, changes to the allowed uses and changes to parking requirements.

On the consent calendar, (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider a reduction of temporary use permit fees related to the extension of the outdoor dining and parklet program.

Council voted 4-1 (Councilmember Alex Rounaghi dissented) on November 7 and approved extending the program for another two years until Jan. 1, 2026. The program includes businesses utilizing private and public parking spaces for outdoor dining through temporary use permits.

All participating businesses will be required to renew their respective TUPs with the planning commission, scheduled for January 17, 2024. According to next week’s agenda report, to streamline the review and approval process, the TUP applications will be presented as a comprehensive package for the commission to consider. Considering the shortened timeframe allocated for this analysis of a consolidated action, staff is recommending the council approve a reduced TUP fee, from $1,672 to $382, for all applicants requesting to continue with outdoor dining.

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Changing of the guard on council agenda, also consider Downtown plan phase two, reduce permit fees for outdoor dining, upgrade to public safety records management system

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council has several notable items on the agenda for next week’s meeting, with the highlight of the night being the annual changing of the guard, as the councilmembers select a new mayor and mayor pro tem.

At the Tuesday (Dec. 12) meeting, council will consider: A new mayor and mayor pro tem; appoint councilmembers to various organizations and committees; introduction to the Downtown Specific Plan update, phase II changes; a reduction of temporary use permit fees related to the extension of the outdoor dining and parklet program; an upgrade of the public safety records management system; the Environmental Sustainability Committee 2024-25 workplan, and a request to consider the Housing and Human Services Committee’s recommendation to establish a local housing trust fund.

Changing of the guard on council agenda council

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Next week, council will select a new mayor and mayor pro tem for 2024

At the beginning of the regular meeting, during extraordinary business, council will recognize outgoing Mayor Bob Whalen and select a new mayor and mayor pro tem for the upcoming year. Council will also decide on an updated seating arrangement of the dais. The outgoing and new mayor and mayor pro tem typically share some remarks as well.

The ceremonious event is a bit more notable this year following a recent contentious discussion regarding an idea to rotate the mayoral role, which failed to find a majority of support.

The item was before the council on November 21 as a request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

At the November meeting, Whalen, who has held the position of mayor five times over the last six years, confirmed that he won’t take on the position for the upcoming year.

Later in the meeting, council will appoint members to various organizations and committees and ad hoc subcommittees, and consider or make any changes to appointments, as desired.

The organizations and committees include Festival of the Arts board of directors, the League of California Cities OC Division, the Southern California Association of Governments, the South Orange County Association of Mayors, Laguna Art Museum board, Coastal Greenbelt Authority, Laguna Canyon Foundation and liaison appointments to the various city committees.

Changing of the guard on council agenda Promenade

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council will consider Downtown Specific Plan updates and reducing the temporary use permit fee the outdoor dining and parklet program

During regular business, council will hear an introduction to the Downtown Specific Plan update, phase II changes.

Council decided in 2019 to complete the comprehensive update to the DSP in two phases. The first phase was adopted in 2020 and implemented in 2022, and it included streamlining of the business permitting process and new parking standards for non-residential uses. The housing, building height and parcel merger components of the DSP update were bifurcated, to be addressed separately and in coordination with the housing element update as phase II. The housing element update was completed and certified by the state in February.

Staff prepared an outline of the draft phase II updates for council’s review next week, which is part of the process to prepare an adequate environmental analysis.

The aim is to provide more permissive development standards for affordable housing. Some of the key updates in phase II of the DSP include changes to height restrictions, changes to maximum residential density, changes to lot merger regulations, changes to the urban design guidelines, changes to the allowed uses and changes to parking requirements.

On the consent calendar, (usually passed without discussion, unless an item is pulled by a councilmember or member of the public), council will consider a reduction of temporary use permit fees related to the extension of the outdoor dining and parklet program.

Council voted 4-1 (Councilmember Alex Rounaghi dissented) on November 7 and approved extending the program for another two years until Jan. 1, 2026. The program includes businesses utilizing private and public parking spaces for outdoor dining through temporary use permits.

All participating businesses will be required to renew their respective TUPs with the planning commission, scheduled for January 17, 2024. According to next week’s agenda report, to streamline the review and approval process, the TUP applications will be presented as a comprehensive package for the commission to consider. Considering the shortened timeframe allocated for this analysis of a consolidated action, staff is recommending the council approve a reduced TUP fee, from $1,672 to $382, for all applicants requesting to continue with outdoor dining.

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Commission recommends amendments related to housing provisions

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week forwarded a recommendation to approve certain housing-related amendments, with comments focused on affordable housing requirements, home occupation regulations, and ensuring housing for the local workforce and artist community.

After more than two and a half hours of discussion, commissioners voted 7-0 on Wednesday (Dec. 6) to recommend that City Council approve amendments to the zoning ordinance, local coastal program, and General Plan related to various housing regulations aimed at reducing constraint on housing development and encouraging affordable units, subject to their additional comments and direction provided during the meeting.

The proposed ordinance would amend portions of the Laguna Beach Municipal Code in accordance with state housing laws and the city’s housing element. The changes include a new chapter for the city’s inclusionary housing policy and new provisions related to density bonuses, single-room occupancy units, transitional and supportive housing, low barrier navigation centers, reasonable accommodations, home occupation/work-live standards, and lot consolidations for senior and affordable housing projects. The amendments would also modify the development standards and parking requirements for the residential component of mixed-use projects in the city’s commercial zones (outside the Downtown Specific Plan area) to improve the feasibility of infill housing projects.

Council approved the city’s 6th Cycle Housing Element, which covers the 2021-2029 planning cycle, on January 11. It was certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development in early February. The housing element establishes a number of programs that the city will need to implement, including satisfying state requirements and creating new opportunities for different housing types. The next phase of land use plan updates was presented by city staff at the May 2 council meeting. Council directed staff to focus on efforts to reduce regulatory barriers to housing production.

The proposed amendments address zoning barriers that may impact the potential for housing production and requirements in state law.

Currently, various commercial zones allow for mixed use residential, but with more restrictive standards (related to setbacks, open space, density and maximum floor area) then what is required for non-residential uses. Staff started the process of developing the amendments to create standards that are no more burdensome than what is required for second floor offices and other non-residential uses.

Housing Program Coordinator Jennifer Savage emphasized at several previous meetings that the purpose of request is to update the policy and, specifically, to reduce the constraint on housing development. Another reason for the update is to clarify the policy, not only in the housing element but also to add a new section in the city’s municipal code to codify the inclusionary housing policy. Also, it would meet the goals and objectives of the housing element, specifically it is included in two programs within the city’s housing element implementation plan.

Commission recommends amendments houses

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Photo by Scott Brashier

The Planning Commission reviewed a number of housing-related amendments this week

Staff initially presented a progress report on the housing-related amendments to the Planning Commission at their August 2 meeting. The discussion focused on creating opportunities and incentives for affordable and senior housing, allowing more work/live projects, and consideration of mixed-use with light industrial in Laguna Canyon.

At their October 18 meeting, during a presentation specifically focused on the proposed policy change related to inclusionary housing, commissioners grappled with balancing how to encourage realistic housing development while also tackling affordability. There was also discussion about the affordable housing in-lieu fee, which shouldn’t be so high that it kills the project, but not so low that developers will simply “buy their way out of affordable housing.” At the time, commissioners also discussed a possible fund or subsidy or grant program set up by the city to house the in-lieu fees (and/or possibly a residential impact fee and or commercial linkage fee) to be used by low-income residents.

The Planning Commission re-heard the draft inclusionary housing policy presentation (along with other items) at the November 15 meeting after audio problems at October’s meeting prevented online speakers from being able to voice their opinions.

There are some notable changes to the inclusionary housing policy since the commission last heard the presentation in November.

Currently, the policy applies to new subdivisions that include two or more units/lots or existing building sites with three or more units. At the October 18 and November 15 meetings, staff proposed that the updated policy apply to projects of five or more units/lots and would be clarified to apply to new development, subdivisions, redevelopment and conversions (office to residential, for example). The intent was to reduce constraint and not disincentivize developers from building a project at all.

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Commission re-hears inclusionary housing, Aliso Creek Plaza coffee shop, more

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission re-heard several items at their meeting last week after audio problems at last month’s meeting prevented online speakers from being able to voice their opinions.

Due to technical issues, public commenters on Zoom could not be heard by the commission at the October 18 meeting and so staff re-agendized a few items for the November 15 meeting. Most of the items were approved without much discussion, commissioners generally summarized their previous comments, although the presentation on a draft inclusionary housing policy prompted some new dialogue.

During the October 18 review, officials grappled with balancing how to encourage realistic housing development while also tackling affordability.

The proposed amendment would modify the city’s zoning ordinance and general plan housing element. The aim is to update and clarify the policy and, specifically, reduce the constraint on housing development. It’s part of a larger set of housing-related ordinances that will return to the commission at a later date for consideration and recommendation to the City Council.

Housing Program Coordinator Jennifer Savage echoed her presentation from the October 18 meeting, which focused on the proposed policy’s applicability, requirements and allowed alternatives.

Commissioner Jorg Dubin reiterated his comment about a possible fund or subsidy or grant program set up by the city to house the in-lieu fees to be used by low-income residents.

“I think we’re going to see a good percentage of re-development or new development of housing that a lot of developers will probably choose the in-lieu fee and I was thinking about how that could be directed towards either a subsidy program or a grant program for low-income folks or people who would like to live in town to offset (the cost of) market rate housing,” he said.

That is absolutely something that staff can explore, Savage answered.

Current code clarifies the uses allowed for the fees, which include a variety of projects, including the ideas mentioned by commissioners. The proposed ordinance copies some of that language, she added, and adds that the collected fees could be used for city staff time to conduct periodic inspections to ensure that the constructed inclusionary housing units comply with the affordable housing agreement, site plan and covenants, as well as the inclusionary housing plan, and all other city and zoning requirements.

Savage also noted that the 2022 schedule for in-lieu fees were based off of a study the city did in 2009. The fees hadn’t been updated since then, even though they’re supposed to be reviewed annually, she added. However, staff conducted an update in August and, largely based on the increase in land value, the in-lieu fees are now substantially more than the previous rates. The new in-lieu fees are approximately $1.29 million for every affordable unit that would have been for sale and $1.03 million for every affordable unit that would have been for rent, compared to the previous rates of $348,197 and $247,317, respectively.

If the goal is to try and make it affordable for people to live in Laguna Beach, perhaps the most effective way to do it is through a funding program, added Commissioner Steve Goldman, as opposed to providing sporadic units throughout town, which developers are not incentivized to build anyway. They would rather pay the in-lieu fee because it’s capitalized as part of the project, he explained, and not an ongoing operating expense or an ongoing lower revenue.

Some commissioners asked about other affordable housing projects in the city. They asked to find out more about how they were initiated, city involvement, funding requirements and other details.

Alice Court and Mermaid Terrace are examples of affordable housing developments that fit comfortably in Laguna Beach, noted Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin.

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Councilmember requests ask to consider policy requiring mayoral roles rotate, parking solutions at new recreation center, reconsider removal of tree, evaluate joining open space coalition

By SARA HALL

There are several interesting items on tonight's Laguna Beach City Council agenda and most of them are requests from councilmembers.

At tonight's meeting, (Tuesday, Nov. 21), there are four councilmember requests: To establish a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles; to direct staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center; to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar, and to authorize staff to evaluate benefits and implications of joining the Natural Communities Coalition.

Also on the agenda, council will consider an Art in Public Places installation at a mixed-use project at 1369 North Coast Highway, and proposed revisions to the underground utility assessment deferment loan program.

A notable councilmember item last up on the agenda: A request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

The memo from Weiss doesn’t go into detail, but he notes that requiring the rotation will “enhance the opportunity for each councilmember to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem.”

Although the item notice is short, there have been a number of public comments in the past suggesting the council switch up the largely ceremonial seats.

Councilmember requests ask to consider policy St Catherine

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Photo by Steven Georges/Diocese of Orange

Council will consider a request tonight to direct staff to explore parking solutions for the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School)

In another councilmember request, Mayor Bob Whalen is asking the council to consider directing staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center.

The city purchased the property at 30516 Coast Highway (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School) in late 2022. The site features approximately 39,500 square feet of former instructional and related facilities on about 6.5 acres of property served by 42 parking spaces.

An interim use plan for the property was approved on January 24, which allowed for immediate use of the gym and the already established facilities. The gym has been activated by the city’s recreation staff to accommodate adult drop-in basketball, indoor pickleball, futsal, drop-in volleyball, youth volleyball clubs, and other city contracted youth recreation classes. The courtyard area is being used for youth skateboarding classes, and some of the former classrooms are being used for preschool age programming, art and science classes, and summer camps offered by the city.

In Whalen’s memo on the item, he noted that the site will also be home to marine safety and police department substations, fire station administrative staff and an emergency operations center in the near future. These will be housed in the former administrative offices and adjacent classrooms, and will require approximately eight to 12 staff parking spaces.

At the March 21 meeting, council unanimously approved the interim use facility reservation program and the license agreement policy and associated fee schedule for the center. The facility reservation and rental program provides residents, nonprofits serving Laguna Beach, and other community organizations the opportunity to use the facility in coordination with the city’s recreation programming and other planned civic uses.

When council contemplated purchasing the property, they anticipated that the facilities would be ultimately repurposed to serve the broader community in a manner to be determined, pending completion of a master plan of the site evaluating all potential long term uses, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“As the City Council, and the community at large, continues to consider the optimal uses of the city’s newest public asset, it seems that the exploration of available parking solutions is an urgent need that must be undertaken by staff to inform us in our deliberations,” he said.

The first request on the agenda under councilmember items, is another request from Whalen for the council to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar.

Whalen is recommending that the city solicit, under the direction of the city manager or his designee, a level three risk assessment of the tree by a third-party certified arborist, to include ground-penetrating radar root mapping to determine the tree’s underlying root structure, performance of a static pull test and any recommendations for tree pruning to provide the council, and the community, an even more comprehensive understanding of the relative health and viability of the tree.

Council approved removing the tree on October 24. His decision supporting removal of the tree under the conditions described by the city’s arborist was a difficult one, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“However, I believed that it was the correct decision at the time,” he wrote. “Since then, I have been persuaded by the numerous requests of local residents to gather additional information to see if our prior decision should remain or be revised.”

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Councilmember requests ask to consider policy requiring mayoral roles rotate, parking solutions at new recreation center, reconsider removal of tree, evaluate joining open space coalition

By SARA HALL

There are several interesting items on next week’s Laguna Beach City Council agenda and most of them are requests from councilmembers.

At the Tuesday (Nov. 21) meeting, there are four councilmember requests: To establish a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles; to direct staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center; to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar, and to authorize staff to evaluate benefits and implications of joining the Natural Communities Coalition.

Also on the agenda, council will consider an Art in Public Places installation at a mixed-use project at 1369 North Coast Highway, and proposed revisions to the underground utility assessment deferment loan program.

A notable councilmember item last up on the agenda: A request from Councilmember George Weiss to consider establishing a policy requiring rotation of the mayor and mayor pro tem roles.

The memo from Weiss doesn’t go into detail, but he notes that requiring the rotation will “enhance the opportunity for each councilmember to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem.”

Although the item notice is short, there have been a number of public comments in the past suggesting the council switch up the largely ceremonial seats.

Councilmember requests ask to consider policy St Catherine

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Photo by Steven Georges/Diocese of Orange

Council will consider a request next week to direct staff to explore parking solutions for the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School)

In another councilmember request, Mayor Bob Whalen is asking the council to consider directing staff to explore parking solutions for city staff and users of the Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center.

The city purchased the property at 30516 Coast Highway (formerly St. Catherine of Siena School) in late 2022. The site features approximately 39,500 square feet of former instructional and related facilities on about 6.5 acres of property served by 42 parking spaces.

An interim use plan for the property was approved on January 24, which allowed for immediate use of the gym and the already established facilities. The gym has been activated by the city’s recreation staff to accommodate adult drop-in basketball, indoor pickleball, futsal, drop-in volleyball, youth volleyball clubs, and other city contracted youth recreation classes. The courtyard area is being used for youth skateboarding classes, and some of the former classrooms are being used for preschool age programming, art and science classes, and summer camps offered by the city.

In Whalen’s memo on the item, he noted that the site will also be home to marine safety and police department substations, fire station administrative staff and an emergency operations center in the near future. These will be housed in the former administrative offices and adjacent classrooms, and will require approximately eight to 12 staff parking spaces.

At the March 21 meeting, council unanimously approved the interim use facility reservation program and the license agreement policy and associated fee schedule for the center. The facility reservation and rental program provides residents, nonprofits serving Laguna Beach, and other community organizations the opportunity to use the facility in coordination with the city’s recreation programming and other planned civic uses.

When council contemplated purchasing the property, they anticipated that the facilities would be ultimately repurposed to serve the broader community in a manner to be determined, pending completion of a master plan of the site evaluating all potential long term uses, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“As the City Council, and the community at large, continues to consider the optimal uses of the city’s newest public asset, it seems that the exploration of available parking solutions is an urgent need that must be undertaken by staff to inform us in our deliberations,” he said.

The first request on the agenda under councilmember items, is another request from Whalen for the council to reconsider the approval to remove a lemon-scented gum tree located at 387 El Camino del Mar.

Whalen is recommending that the city solicit, under the direction of the city manager or his designee, a level three risk assessment of the tree by a third-party certified arborist, to include ground-penetrating radar root mapping to determine the tree’s underlying root structure, performance of a static pull test and any recommendations for tree pruning to provide the council, and the community, an even more comprehensive understanding of the relative health and viability of the tree.

Council approved removing the tree on October 24. His decision supporting removal of the tree under the conditions described by the city’s arborist was a difficult one, Whalen wrote in the memo.

“However, I believed that it was the correct decision at the time,” he wrote. “Since then, I have been persuaded by the numerous requests of local residents to gather additional information to see if our prior decision should remain or be revised.”

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Council extends outdoor dining and parklet program, directs commission to review spaces used by Las Brisas

By SARA HALL

City Council last week approved extending the outdoor dining and parklet program for another two years.

Councilmembers voted 4-1 (Councilmember Alex Rounaghi dissented) on November 7 to continue the program until Jan. 1, 2026. The program includes businesses utilizing private and public parking spaces for outdoor dining through temporary use permits.

“The program is something we should continue to encourage,” said Mayor Bob Whalen.

As part of last week’s action, council also directed the Planning Commission to review the number of spaces used by Las Brisas restaurant for outdoor dining, which Rounaghi indicated was the reason behind his “no” vote.

Councilmember George Weiss questioned why Las Brisas, which already has their own outdoor dining area, needs to utilize 28 private parking spaces (significantly more than other restaurants participating in the program) to expand it even more.

It is fairly substantial, noted Community Development Director Marc Wiener, and they are looking into it. Staff recognizes that La Brisas is, by far, utilizing the most spaces, he added.

“They really have the lion’s share of the parking spaces under this program, so that is something that we are intending to look at when we take this back to the Planning Commission for the TUP and I do want to see if we can get that footprint reduced a little bit more and get some of those parking spaces open,” Wiener said.

Council could also consider setting a limit on the number of spaces that a site can utilize, he added.

Interim City Manager Sean Joyce recommended that council include the direction for the Planning Commission to look at the spaces being utilized by Las Brisas in the motion of approval, so that it’s written into the record rather than staff inferring that there was a consensus. Weiss clarified his motion for approval accordingly.

Whalen pointed out that since staff indicated they were already preparing to raise the issue with the Planning Commission about whether or not they should scale it back, this was just a formal part of the motion from the council to ask the commission to review it.

“They can decide whatever they want, they can decide no change (or) some change,” Whalen said.

Ultimately, a majority of councilmembers agreed.

Council extends outdoor dining parklets

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City Council approved extending the outdoor dining parklet program again

Councilmember Mark Orgill also suggested that when they work on the implementation of the Downtown Action Plan that staff look for opportunities where they can widen the sidewalks and accommodate outdoor dining without the parklets. He and other councilmembers agreed that they could improve the visual impact.

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf noted that widened sidewalks are much more charming anyway. There’s plenty of room to do that in a lot of places, she pointed out.

A few councilmembers also agreed that the city should try to capture as many businesses as possible into the parking master plan.

Overall, he supports outdoor dining, Rounaghi noted, it’s popular and makes a lot of sense for Laguna Beach. It’s one good thing that happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

The outdoor dining program was approved in May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on indoor dining, Wiener explained. The action authorized outdoor dining and outdoor display of merchandise on the adjacent storefront sidewalk through the approval of a temporary use permit. It was later expanded to include the parklet program, he added.

Staff noted in the report that “it’s been successful in helping support businesses,” which have been operating under the city-approved TUPs. Since the program’s inception, staff has approved 30 TUPs for outdoor dining and retail display in the Downtown and other locations.

The program was first extended in August 2020 and again in January 2021. After Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October 2021 that allowed jurisdictions with outdoor dining to reduce the number of required parking spaces for existing business uses, the program was extended again in November 2021.

In May, council approved a market rate fee schedule for outdoor dining programs/parklets on public property in Downtown. The rate was set at $5 per square foot, per month, plus a $4,500 maintenance fee.

There are 15 restaurants currently participating in the outdoor dining program. Wiener noted that four restaurants (Hapi Sushi of Laguna, Slice Pizza, Sushi Laguna and The Wharf) have decided not to renew their permits and their parklets have been removed.

Through the issuance of TUPs, a total of 68 parking spaces are devoted to outdoor dining under this program, including 56 spaces in private parking lots and 12 public spaces utilized as parklets.

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Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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