The following issues are of current concern to Village Laguna. Note that past Village Laguna Newsletters contain discussions on these topics. Also many other inter-related Organizations weigh in on the areas that are most important to them. Clicking on one of the topics in red below will take you to more information on the subject.

Detailed Responses

Historic Preservation

“Preservation Paralysis,” Village Matters column by Ann Christoph, The Indy, Sept. 1, 2017

After months of hearings on a revised historic preservation ordinance, the heritage committee and the design review board agreed on an approach that would allow more flexibility in historic property review and integrate California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements into the city’s processes.

Now that the ordinance is being reviewed by the planning commission, new approaches are being suggested that will back-track on the previous work and make historic status more uncertain for property owners.

Let’s say we bought a building that was built in the 1920s (or ‘30s or ‘40s, it doesn’t matter) with the intention of tearing it down and building our dream house. We hire an architect, go over all our wishes and ideas. The architect, after several iterations comes up with a plan we really love. “So let’s submit it for city approval,” we say eagerly. The architect meets with staff and hears, “Well, wait, considering the age of your existing house, it may be a historic resource. We have this process…where your property is preliminarily reviewed by the director of community development. If he thinks it is potentially a historic resource he will require that a historic report be prepared.”

“What!?” we say, very upset. “How were we supposed to know this? We didn’t want to buy a historic house. We just want to build our wonderful new house.”

A similar scenario occurred recently for a house that had not previously been noted as historic on Coast Highway near 1000 Steps Beach. There was a historic assessment and two peer reviews, an appeal to the city council focused on the historic issue and now there is a Coastal Commission appeal and a lawsuit.

This kind of situation does not benefit the applicant, neighbors or historic preservation. But this is what the current draft of the historic preservation ordinance is setting us up for by delaying a historic determination until an applicant comes to the counter with a proposed project.

Currently the city’s historic evaluation process is based on having an adopted inventory of historic resources that the public can refer to in order to understand in advance if a property is presumed to be historic. We have an inventory adopted in 1982 that was updated in 2014. A supplemental inventory is needed to document properties that were missed or have become historic since the first one was prepared. This combination would relieve uncertainty and avoid the last minute surprise scenario.

But instead of using this approach, at its last meeting the planning commission directed that the historic inventory be dropped from the ordinance.

This means that instead of using an inventory of properties that are “presumed to be historic” to advise property owners of their building’s historic status, each property would be considered individually when applications are made. This would not only be costly for applicants and the city (the ordinance requires the city to pay for historic assessments) it would add tremendously to the contentiousness of project review. As well as adding to the uncertainty for owners, this approach would ultimately result in the loss of more historic structures because of the overlooking of potential historic resources and misunderstandings, and it would diminish support for the historic preservation program.

We are looking at lifetimes of disputes and hearings over historic properties, one by one. Our planning processes may be difficult now, but this will paralyze us.

There are numbers of property owners who have objected to the ordinance meeting after meeting. They want the city’s historic preservation program to be voluntary and then they will “opt out” or they want their properties removed from the inventory.

The planning commission’s idea to eliminate the inventory altogether seems to be an attempt to placate these property owners.

This approach may quiet the objectors for this ordinance review cycle, but it ultimately does property owners a disservice by giving them the false impression that taking a property off of an inventory or not having an inventory means their property is not a historic resource and doesn’t have to comply with historic preservation rules.

But that is not the case. Just leaving references to the inventory out of the ordinance doesn’t mean that the properties listed on it are no longer historic.

If a property is a historic resource, it does have to comply under CEQA and with the provisions that apply to historic resources.

With the continued use of the inventory, making the inventory as complete as possible, and giving appropriate disclosures, property owners would know early in their decision-making processes. They will learn of the benefits of being part of Laguna’s historic preservation program and how a preserved and embellished historic property can become a dream house with a story like no other. They can plan to take advantage of the incentives, including property tax relief and relaxed building, parking and setback standards. This will rarely happen if the news of having a historic property is a last minute surprise.

Removing the inventory from the ordinance only kicks the can down the road, leaving the contentious disputes to poison our review processes for years to come.

The planning commission will consider the historic preservation ordinance next at its meeting of Sept. 6.


Village Laguna’s August 31, 2017, letter to the Planning Commission:

We appreciate this opportunity to express our concerns about the revised Historic Preservation Ordinance dated 8-25-17. Our response is organized in several parts, beginning with suggested revisions and questions and concluding with a critique of the general approach.

1.  Ambiguities and omissions in the text

The definition of “Demolition” (25.45.004) includes only the removal of exterior walls and/or framing, while the definition of “Substantial alteration,” which includes demolition, includes anything that would “impair the significance and integrity of a historical resource.” The Design Review Board pointed out this discrepancy and asked that the “significance and integrity of a historical resource” be included in the definition of demolition as well. This change was not included in the ordinance sent along to the Planning Commission and should be made in this version. (Staff has explained [in an e-mail message, 8-30-17] that incorporating the “significance and integrity” phrasing into the definition of “Demolition” might lead to confusion because “Demolition” is defined otherwise elsewhere in the Municipal Code. However, the definition here specifically says “for the purpose of this chapter,” so there should be no problem with including it in specific reference to historic preservation. At the same time, the definition already in the code should be modified to include the special consideration of potentially historic structures.)

The reference “(36 CFR Part 61)” cited in the “Historic monitor” definition (25.45.004) is unclear. (What is it?) In addition, the only mention of this professional seems to be under “Pre-construction meeting” (25.45.012[E]), where it’s followed by “if required.” Yet the definition says that this person oversees a project “to ensure that the construction and modifications are consistent with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards.” Does this mean that this person is not required if the project does not require following those standards? Both the definition and the description in 25.45.012 should be expanded to clarify the role of this person in the process of construction, not just at an initial meeting. This was one of the recommendations of the Design Review Board.

The “Historic preservation style guide” is defined (25.45.004) but nowhere mentioned in the ordinance. This proposed document was included by the Heritage Committee to provide preservation guidance and a separate set of local standards for evaluating changes to C-rated structures under CEQA. Now it seems to have been abandoned. 

Where the director is permitted to waive the requirement for a historic assessment (25.45.006[A]), the criteria for doing that should be spelled out. Among other things left unspecified in this section is who pays for the historical assessment described in this section.
The section on incentives (25.45.010) would be easier to understand if the exceptions were grouped together (for example, “Structures on the city’s historic register or structures identified as having a ‘C’, ‘K’ or ‘E’ rating pursuant to section 25.45.008 are eligible to apply for the following preservation benefits, with the exceptions noted below.”)
For the parking credit (25.45.010[A][1])., the “degree to which the historic character of the building is preserved and/or enhanced” should be replaced with a more objective measure that incorporates the results of the parking demand study mentioned below. “Degree of preservation or enhancement” is inappropriate as a measure because the structure should conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards or a set of local standards developed for C-rated structures in order to be granted incentives.
The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which were prominently featured in the earlier draft, are mentioned only in the definition of “Historic monitor” and under “Environmental Determination” (25.45.012[D]), and the language of the latter suggests that they’re an optional alternative to “the design guidelines” (which appear only in 25.45.014 and seem to apply to C-rated structures). What is intended here? Are E- and K-rated structures no longer to be required to follow the SOI Standards?
The design guidelines (25.45.014[D]) don’t include any mention of the “historic character” of C-rated structures that is elsewhere referenced as something to be preserved to be eligible for incentives (25.45.010).

The section on disclosure (25.45.018) is missing the paragraph on “City Disclosure” that appeared in an earlier draft. That paragraph should be restored, with the year “1955” to be replaced by whatever age criterion the Commission decides upon. In addition, the real property report should include the date the structure was built, any other historical data known about it, and the notice that structures of the specified age will be regarded as potentially historic and eligible for preservation incentives and restrictions unless a historic assessment proves otherwise.

The Commission has expressed interest in having the City hire a staff person dedicated to historic preservation, but the ordinance doesn’t reflect this.

2.  Inconsistencies in the treatment of C-rated structures

The determination to deny the historic character of C-rated structures has some apparently illogical effects. Continuing to recognize C-rated structures as historic resources as they have been for 35 years while applying local standards to their alteration (as recommended by the Heritage Committee and the Design Review Board) would resolve the following inconsistencies:

C-rated structures aren’t eligible for listing on the historic register (25.45.004), but they are eligible for certain incentives if their owners sign an agreement to “preserve their historic character” (25.45.010). How is this agreement different from placement on the register?
At the same time, there are already some 80 C-rated structures on the register, and we assume that they’ll remain there. How is this discrepancy in the treatment of C-rated structures—some historic resources, some not—to be explained?
The property rating system (25.45.008) has four possibilities—E, K, C, and “no historic significance”—suggesting that C does have historic significance.

C-rated structures are eligible for nearly all the incentives available to structures on the register but don’t require a recommendation from the Heritage Committee to receive them (25.45.010). Isn’t it odd that the less-valued structures have the easier road to benefits?

They are also excluded from Heritage Committee consideration of alterations (25.45.012) and from using the State Historic Building Code instead of the current one (25.45.010[C]). Does this make sense if they’re under an agreement to “preserve their historic character”?

The disclosure on the real property report excludes C-rated structures (25.45.018[A]), but since simply their age (70 or older) has implications for demolition, relocation, or substantial alterations (25.45.006[A]), shouldn’t this fact be shared with prospective buyers? The Real Property Report mentioned in the section on disclosure should include the date the structure was built, any important historical data known about it, and the notice that structures 70 years old or older will be regarded as potentially historic and eligible for preservation incentives and restrictions unless a historic assessment proves otherwise.

The special requirements for demolition of E- and K-rated structures and structures on the register—the waiting period and the findings---are also denied to C-rated structures (25.45.020), even though they are recognized as contributing to “the overall character and history of the neighborhood” (25.45.004) and having “historic character” (25.45.010) and substantial alterations to them are regulated (25.45.006). That a coastal development permit is required for demolition is virtually meaningless in terms of protection, given that no history-related findings are required for approval and that the Design Review Board often hears a proposal for demolition only when it has the plans for the replacement project before it.

The property maintenance requirement is limited to structures on the register (25.45.026). Shouldn’t it be extended to any structure that has a preservation agreement? 

The penalties for illegal demolition also exclude C-rated structures while including “an unrated structure more than 70 years” (25.45.028). This means that the only 70-year-old or older structures not subject to demolition penalties would be those identified as C-rated structures on the City’s current inventory. Surely this is an oversight?

3.  The age criterion for historic significance

The choice of the cutoff date of 70 years or older hasn’t been justified and should be reconsidered. CEQA doesn’t require an age criterion, though 50 years, which is the criterion for the state and national registers, is used by many cities. It also needs to be made clear that a house that isn’t that old might still be historic under exceptional conditions.

4.  Abandonment of the inventory

When the Planning Commission decided to downgrade the existing Historic Resources Inventory to a “resource document,” to be used for informational purposes only, and not to adopt Jan Ostashay’s revised version in its place, the City Attorney pointed out that this would throw all of the City’s potentially historic resources into a “no-man’s-land,” and this is apparent in the new draft of the ordinance. Removing a structure from the local inventory does not affect its status as a potential historic resource under CEQA. Structures that meet the state’s criteria must be regarded as of potential historic value unless an assessment has shown otherwise. 

Section 24.45.006 says it all:  Alterations to any house 70 years old and older that’s not on the historic register will be subject to examination as a possible historic resource by the director, the Heritage Committee, and/or the Design Review Board. The impact of all this not only on property owners—who will be left uncertain about what they can do with their houses until they get to the front counter with their proposals—but on the staff and the community that will be paying for its time is likely to be enormous.

The Commission may have been influenced in taking this approach by the notions that (a) the original inventory was casually and carelessly done and (b) the failure to update it regularly has made it invalid. Both these assumptions are incorrect. First, the inventory was prepared following federal and state guidelines by qualified professionals with the assistance of an advisory board of Laguna citizens. Second, as our attorney, Deborah Rosenthal has informed the commission (in her July 5 letter), 

“The Historic Inventory was formally adopted by resolution of the City Council in 1982 as ‘the best representative examples of historically significant architecture’ in the City.
“PRC § 5020.1(k) defines a ‘local register of historical resources’ as a “list of properties officially designated or recognized as historically significant by a local government pursuant to a local ordinance or resolution.”
“Any list adopted by formal resolution qualifies under PRC §5020.1(k), even if it is called an inventory.
“There is no ‘5-year rule’ for lists adopted by formal resolution under PRC 5020.1(k).” 

Abandoning the inventory may be an attempt to address the concerns of property owners who object to having their houses on it, but doing so would change their status only to make it more uncertain.

A better solution would be to create a truly updated inventory (including all of the City’s potentially historic resources—E’s, K’s, and C’s) and develop a historic preservation guide for it. 

5.  Violation of the General Plan and CEQA implications

Setting aside the question whether it’s even possible to undo the formal 1982 resolution adopting the inventory, it would certainly be a violation of the General Plan to downgrade the inventory and would require amendment of the Historic Resources and Land Use Elements of the Plan. Specifically:

Land Use Element Goal 2, Policy 2.2, Action 2.2.1, “Update the City’s Historic Resource Inventory”

Historic Resources Element Goal 1, Policy 1.1 “Create a historic preservation task force to review and update the Historic Resources List (Inventory)”

Historic Resources Element Goal 1, Policy 1.4, “Expand the Mills Act contract program to include ‘K’ and ‘C’- rated structures as ‘qualified structures’”

In addition, downgrading the inventory would require an environmental impact report, given the predictably significant cumulative impact of abandoning the presumption of historic value for 500+ older homes. Once again, Deborah Rosenthal has told the Commission that “the draft Historic Ordinance revisions are not categorically exempt from CEQA”:

“Revisions to the Historic Ordinance do not fall under the exemption for adoption of local coastal plans and programs under CEQA Guidelines § 15265.

“Removing protections from ‘C’ rated properties does not fall under the exemption for actions that ‘assure the maintenance, restoration, enhancement, or protection of the environment.’  Relaxation of standards is expressly excluded.”

We hope that you will consider all of these concerns before making your recommendation to the City Council.

Ann Christoph, Johanna Felder, Norm Grossman, Becky Jones,
Barbara Metzger, Greg O’Loughlin, and Verna Rollinger


Ann Christoph's Presentation at the June 26, 2017, Village Laguna General Meeting.

→View Slide Show

Village Laguna’s March 13, 2017, letter to the Planning Commission:

Village Laguna representatives have participated in the meetings on the Historic Preservation Ordinance for over two years.  Generally we support the approach and provisions contained in the proposed draft ordinance.  The ordinance addresses several key issues not addressed in our current ordinance:

  • Integration of CEQA into our historic preservation program.
  • Evaluation of properties not on the Inventory for historic resource status.
  • Improved incentive program.
  • City funding of key historical reports
  • Loca l standards for evaluation of improvements to historic properties

These improvements are intended to make the process clearer and more helpful for owners of historic properties, staff, and members of the public who are involved in implementation of the historic preservation program.

Historic preservation is a key component in maintaining the unique qualities of Laguna Beach, and preserving our village character largely depends on preservation of our historic resources—the small scale, natural materials, home-made appearance of construction, unusual responses to the topography and neighborhood features.  Both innovative modern (Halliburton house--1938) and period design (water district, lumber yard) have a place in our historic preservation spectrum.  We urge you to support the ordinance and review it with an eye for provisions that will be most effective, clear, and compatible with other city ordinances.

We are grateful that the staff has produced a Q and A document.  This should go a long way to addressing the recurrent questions in the public testimony.

There are two concerns that we raised at the Design Review hearing that the Board supported.  However, the wording and details conveyed to you in the Design Review memo are not specific.

Our concerns relate to the definition of demolition and the implementation of historic preservation during construction.  In both matters we have seen problems that have resulted in loss of historic resources.

The definition of demolition needs to be tailored to preservation of integrity of the buildings.  Right now the definition is “any act that removes all the existing exterior wall and roof framing.”  By the time those removals take place it will be too late, the historic value/integrity of the structure will have been compromised.  

We recommend the following wording:

“Demolition, for the purposes of this chapter, means any act or failure to act that destroys or removes wholly or in part a historical resource such that its historic or architectural character, character-defining features, and significance are materially altered.  Demolition permits are subject to compliance with the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act and Title 14 of this code.”

Monitoring during construction (Page 11 Item G) provides for a preconstruction meeting when starting work on a historic property, but a historical consultant is not included in this meeting.  We request provisions that involve the historical consultant consistently during the construction process so that the intent of historic preservation will be properly carried out.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Climate Change

Village Laguna’s August 8, 2017, letter to City Council:

We appreciate everything the City has been doing under the 2009 Climate Protection Action Plan in response to climate change, and we especially welcome the news that the Environmental Sustainability Committee is going to be researching and informing us about the anticipated effects of sea-level rise on our community. The warming of the ocean has already negatively impacted the local kelp beds that furnish habitat for marine life.

We strongly urge passage of the resolution supporting the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, aimed at keeping global warming from reaching 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which the worst consequences of climate change will be unavoidable. By joining with more than 350 other U.S. cities in making that commitment we may be able to make real progress.

We hope that the City will take such further practical steps as updating the action plan, converting city buildings to solar energy, and investigating the idea of facilitating residents’ access to clean, sustainable energy sources through a program already operating in a number of California cities called “community choice aggregation.”

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Village Entrance Project

Village Laguna’s February 28, 2017, letter to the City Council:

Thank you for your positive comments on the multi-use plan for the Village Entrance prepared by a committee of Village Laguna and the Beautification Council. Your reducing by 25 the number of parking spaces and allowing for 25% compact spaces will provide more space for planting and for a meandering pathway. This can result in a more aesthetically pleasing layout. It’s an important step in fulfilling the longstanding goals of the Village Entrance design.

However, we suggest that you additionally direct the consultants to take full advantage of the provisions in our parking code that can further reduce the space taken up by parking without reducing the parking count.

25.52.012 (E) Compact, Motorcycle and Bicycle Stalls. In every parking area and garage containing six or more stalls, fifty percent of the stalls provided may be designed as compact spaces. Bicycle and motorcycle parking spaces are encouraged and will count towards required parking. To count toward required parking, eight bicycle spaces or two motorcycle spaces count for one standard size parking space, not to exceed ten percent of the required parking.

In addition there are important aspects of the plan we ask that you continue to consider:

1. Making the open paved area (now shown as only a parking lot) between the channel and Laguna Canyon Road an open multi-use plaza used primarily for various activities such as art and craft exhibits, car shows, Farmer’s Market, etc. would provide overflow parking—only when the Christmas Tree and all the other lots are filled would it be used for parking. Thus for much of the year this space would be seen as part of the landscaped open space. It is important for this area to have paving that reinforces the rustic theme and its special multi-use status—not asphalt or plain concrete. We should look at the paving the consultant is recommending to see if it would meet this criterion. We should visit Los Rios park in San Juan Capistrano to see how the paving there is faring.

2. There is little benefit in removing the rusty sheds and much to lose. Laguna Beach is known for its history and its quirky features around every corner. The sheds and morning glories are a subtle reminder of the character of our town in earlier times. These are the kinds of buildings the plein air painters loved to paint. The extra-long parking spaces under the shed roof can continue to be used for City vehicles. Trading that extra parking area for an expanded landscape zone is unnecessary, since its only function is to hide what is already well hidden by the existing sheds.

3. At earlier planning sessions there was strong public support for restoring the digester tower. A number of ideas have been suggested for beneficial uses of the building, and surely we can agree on future uses in the coming months.

If the digester is not restored now, it appears that we will have to wait for the completion of the rest of the project in 2020 to do it. At that point the work will be disruptive of the new improvements on the site, and it will probably cost more than it would otherwise to coordinate the necessary changes in water, sewer, and electrical service to the building (which may be the logical place for lighting and irrigation controls for the rest of the site). In any case, whatever reuse of the digester is chosen, the restoration of the exterior can go ahead in the meantime, being determined by the original plans for this historic building. We have already paid architect Morris Skenderian to research and produce plans for the restoration work. His work is fundamental to preparing the detailed plans. If we stop the restoration now, that investment in his services will be lost, and in three years or more an architect will have to get up to speed on this building all over again. Now is the time to complete the restoration and make the building more beautiful and functional.

The restored digester can be a focal point of the project, offering opportunities for cultural and historical exhibits as well as possibly a Chamber of Commerce office/visitor information center. Permanent restrooms at that, location would also facilitate the activities in the plaza. This would help to bring life to the whole project. Instead of just parking and landscaping, a renewed historic center with related outdoor amenities (as shown on our multi-use plan) will give the Village Entrance area an image and focal point. This 1926 painting by George Brandriff shows the array of cottages and sheds prevailing in town at the time the Presbyterian Church was under construction. Our sheds are some of the last remaining artifacts with the character of that era. We should repair and reinforce them while leaving their downhill appearance with the morning glories intact. 

4. The City should get its money’s worth, and you are being responsible in keeping close watch over expenditures. However, just as you recognized as the project developed that the rigid criterion of preserving all of the parking spaces on the site was limiting the aesthetics of the design, so should we also allow a budget that is adequate to fund a well-executed and beautiful project—one about which there will be no regrets. Please do not view this as Phase I of some future project. The project you decide upon will in all likelihood be in place for decades.

Thank you for considering further enhancements to the Village Entrance design. We look forward to working with you toward a project that will be admired well into the future.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Ruben Flores, Chair, Laguna Beach Beautification Council
Gregg DeNicola. President, Laguna Beach Historical Society

Village Laguna’s February 1, 2017, letter to the Planning Commission and City Council

Twenty-two years ago, when this project first started, the vision was “a beautiful, pedestrian-oriented area that links the art festival activity areas to the downtown village and Main Beach.” It was going to have a “pedestrian walkway that meanders through an undulating park-like landscape of indigenous trees and flowers and includes interesting art ‘placement’ sculptures and creative water features.”

The proposal we’ve ended up with is very far from that vision.

The pathway isn’t wide enough or protected enough from the Canyon Road to create the green space we’ve been hoping to see, and that’s because preserving the parking spaces has been the guiding principle for its design.

The plan that Ann and Ruben are talking about shows how more green space could be created. The curving shape of the pathway on that plan would be better buffered from the road and would mirror the new Festival façade. The metal sheds would echo some of the materials across the street and remind us of an earlier time. 

That plan would require giving up some parking spaces, but if that proves to be a problem with the Coastal Commission we think you could make a good case that the City is making up for the slight shortfall elsewhere.

You could point, for example, to the fact that you’ve spent $5 million on the Christmas tree lot and will be spending another million upgrading it to provide additional spaces. You could mention the peripheral parking lots at the hospital, Pavilions, ACT V, and LCAD, the free shuttle, and the electronic billboards encouraging its use.

Also, we hear that tourists are arriving at their hotels by Uber and using it to get around town while they’re here. And a good-looking pedestrian pathway could even be considered a visitor-serving amenity.

A lot of people are going to be disappointed to find that after all this work we’re going to have just a parking lot with a few more trees in it.

We urge you to free up enough space for a meandering pathway away from the road that will make the Village Entrance beautiful and welcoming.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

<Read Ann Christoph's column from the Laguna Beach Independent, February 17, 2017

<Read Ann Christoph's letter in the Laguna Beach Magazine, Sept. 2, 2016.>

Village Laguna’s June 30, 2016, letter to City Council:

On June 4, after attending the last consultant-directed workshop on the Village Entrance project, we wrote you the attached letter advising you that it seemed to us the project was going down the wrong track.  We asked you to take action to address problems arising from applying criteria to the design that did not allow the consultants to consider certain features that would improve it. <read more> 

Laguna Beach and its Greenbelt Designated a Historic American Landscape

From an article in Stu News, Jan. 10, 2017. “Laguna Beach and Laguna Greenbelt declared Historic American Landscape by National Parks.”

Laguna Beach and the Greenbelt have been recognized as a Historic American Landscape by the National Parks Service, Department of Interior. Documentation of the designation, including written history, maps, photographs and painting reproductions, will be permanently housed in the Library of Congress. 

“This national recognition confirms what we know – our unique town is a treasure,” commented Mayor Toni Iseman. “We need to be dedicated to preserve what those before us created. Future generations will thank us for our historic town and the Greenbelt we fought so hard to preserve.”

Laguna Greenbelt’s annual meeting will present “Laguna Beach and the Greenbelt, Celebrating a Treasured Historic American Landscape” on Feb 15 at 7 p.m. at the Congregational Church, Bridge Hall, 340 St. Ann’s Drive. A book by the same title will be available that evening. The public is cordially invited. 

Laguna Beach and its Greenbelt are worthy of designation as a Historic American Landscape because its beautiful and dramatic natural landscape setting is intricately related to the community and artistic tradition that grew from it. Its geological formations, natural vegetation and coastal location attracted artists beginning around the turn of the last century. 

The artistic influence and the character of the landscape shaped the qualities of the town, village environment and the unique community that has descended from it. Laguna’s history, including isolation from other development, its role as arts colony, and its leadership in environmental preservation all stem from the characteristics and disposition of the landscape itself. 

The presentation and book elaborate on these complex and remarkable interrelationships. 

In cooperation with the Library of Congress, the National Park Service administers the Historic American Buildings Survey (since 1933), the Historic American Engineering Record (since1969), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS), begun in 2000 in cooperation with the American Society of Landscape Architects. 

These programs encourage and facilitate the documentation of the history and characteristics of important buildings, engineering projects, and landscapes. More than 40,000 structures and sites have been documented nationwide. The archives produced through these programs are housed in the Library of Congress. 

Since the beginning of the HALS program in 2000, 700 sites have been designated nationwide. Examples include Golden Gate Park; Bidwell Park, Chico; Camp Curry, Yosemite; Rancho Los Alamitos, Long Beach; California missions; Washington Monument grounds; and Mount Vernon. 

The application of HALS to a large landscape like Laguna Beach and Greenbelt was unusual, but the National Park Service was impressed with the relationship of Laguna’s natural landscape to the plein air artists, and the traditions that have led to the growth and preservation of our unique community. 

The Committee for Preservation of the Laguna Legacy, chaired by Ron Chilcote, prepared the submittal for the Historic American Landscape Survey. Members included Barbara Metzger, writer and editor; Ann Christoph, writer; Tom Lamb, graphic design, photography and collections; Mark Chamberlain, photography and collections; Eric Jessen, art history and collections; Verna Rollinger, Bob Borthwick and Harry Huggins Greenbelt history and mapping. Alison Terry, representative of the American Society of Landscape Architects, advised and coordinated submission of the materials to the National Park Service. 

[Note that many of those on the Committee for Preservation of the Laguna Legacy are members of Village Laguna.]

HALS group honored at City Council

laguna beach and the greenbelt HALS book cover

laguna beach and the greenbelt HALS book cover

Committee for Preservation of the Laguna Legacy,  Left to Right: committee members Ann Christoph, Ron Chilcote, Harry Huggins, and Tom Lamb; Mayor Toni Iseman; committee members Mark Chamberlain, Barbara Metzger, Bob Borthwick, and Eric Jessen (Verna Rollinger not pictured) 

Committee for Preservation of the Laguna Legacy,  Left to Right: committee members Ann Christoph, Ron Chilcote, Harry Huggins, and Tom Lamb; Mayor Toni Iseman; committee members Mark Chamberlain, Barbara Metzger, Bob Borthwick, and Eric Jessen (Verna Rollinger not pictured) 


Downtown Specific Plan

Report and IBI Presentation to Planning Commission Meeting on March 22, 2017

Presentation of IBI Group's Draft DSP Area Parking Actual Demand Study)
(Staff Report and IBI Group Draft Study)
(Public Correspondence)
(Presentation by City Staff)
(Presentation by IBI Group)

Village Laguna Beach's January 9, 2017,  Letter to Planning Commission: Comments re MIGs Proposed Amendments to Downtown Specific Plan, Section II

1. This chapter is, of course, primarily descriptive, but we did find a policy change that we’d like to object to. Under “Land Use and Zoning” (II-1), we urge you not to eliminate the “resident-serving commercial” district of the plan.

MIG seems to have misinterpreted the intent of this zone in pointing to the fact that resident-serving uses occur in other zones. The idea was not to confine resident-serving businesses to a sort of ghetto but to attempt to even the playing field for businesses that typically make less money by giving them a place where they would be preferred. Rents have historically been lower on Ocean than on Forest, and creating a resident-serving district there was an attempt to preserve a safe haven for them. The district initially reflected the uses that were there when it was established (when we had a tailor’s shop, a bookstore, a couple of dry cleaners, a Community Clinic, and an additional bank in addition to the surviving shoe repair shop, the banks, the post office [with its own parking lot], the Zinc café, the bus station, the public restrooms, and the brokerage).  <Read More>

Village Laguna’s December 3, 2015, letter to the City Council and Planning Commission:

After review of the retail- use memos and recommendations for retail and commercial uses and conditional use permits, we have the following observations and comments:

We generally agree

  • that identification of certain permitted uses, with an emphasis on resident-serving ones, could serve as an incentive and reduce the need for CUPs.

  • that fees should be reduced for resident-serving businesses.  <Read More>

We’d like more information about the following:

  • What is “alcohol + one,” and how would this use affect the retail mix? What is the problem it is intended to solve?   <Read More>

Finally, we have the following concerns:

  • That combining the CBD-1 and the CBD-2 zones could reduce the number of resident-serving businesses by eliminating an area designed to be a refuge for these uses.   <Read More>


Coast Inn and Coast Liquor Store Restoration and Development

Village Laguna Beach's July 1, 2017,  Letter to Planning Commission

Village Laguna is concerned about the Coast Inn rehabilitation project because the proposed modifications appear to go beyond what is recommended in the Secretary of Interior Standards (SOIS). In addition, parking requirements are being reduced as an incentive to make an authentic, compliant rehabilitation. The proposed work seems to us to be insufficiently based on documented features of the building during the period of significance (which, according to Jan Ostashay’s report, is the 1930s–1940s). Rather, features are added that are not historical and that impact the community by intensifying the use of the property.

The rooftop improvements, roof deck, and furniture, umbrellas, and heaters will be highly visible and are not recommended under the SOIS.

Rehabilitation is defined as the act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values.” (p. 65)

The following actions are not recommended in the SOIS for rehabilitation:

“Constructing a rooftop addition that is highly visible, which negatively impacts the character of the historic building, its site, setting or district.” (p. 159)
“Constructing a highly visible, multi-story rooftop addition on low-rise, one to three story historic buildings that is highly visible, overwhelms the building and negatively impacts the historic district.” (p. 160)
“Constructing a rooftop addition with amenities (such as a raised pool deck with plantings, HVAC equipment or screening) that is highly visible and negatively impacts the historic character of the building.” (p. 160)

We question whether the project is a true rehabilitation, since so many of the features that “convey its historical, cultural or architectural values” (such as the turrets) will be totally reconstructed. The definition and standards for reconstruction help to define the criteria for re-creating these features.

Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.” (p. 225)

The period of significance is the span of time during which significant events and activities occurred.

The standards for reconstruction include the following:

“Reconstruction will be used to depict vanished or non-surviving portions of a property when documentary and physical evidence is available to permit accurate reconstruction with minimal conjecture, and such reconstruction is essential to the public understanding of the property.” (p. 226)

“Reconstruction will be based on the accurate duplication of historic features and elements substantiated by documentary or physical evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different features from other historic properties. A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color, and texture.” (p. 226)

The historic rehabilitation or reconstruction work should be accurate for the period of significance (1930s–1940s) and should not be based on conjecture or the combination of features from other eras, including 2017. An E rating is recommended in Ostashay’s report only if original and significant character-defining features of the building are restored and rehabilitated in a manner consistent with the SOIS.

We are concerned that an E rating has already been recommended when there are so many conflicts with the SOIS.

Please reconsider this project and require an authentic rehabilitation/reconstruction that truly depicts the appearance of the Coast Inn during its defined period of significance and does not include the novel and impactful rooftop deck.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Village Laguna Beach's December 14, 2016,  Letter to Planning Commission

The Board of Village Laguna supports the historic restoration of this property and the conditions outlined for rehabilitation in the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) documents. However, we are concerned that the profile and overall character of the buildings will be so altered by the proposed added elements—rooftop deck and accompanying umbrellas, elevator tower, gazebo—that the historic character of this building will be overwhelmed and inappropriately diminished.  

In our view, the project cannot meet the conditions in the MND with the proposed excessive program and prominent alterations to the character-defining facades. It should be noted that staking of the project was not in place for the Heritage Committee review, and so the changes to the height and mass of the building were not apparent at that stage.

Three restaurants including rooftop dining and a pool and bar area in addition to the hotel exceed what is reasonable to be accommodated on this limited site. While historic restoration allows for parking incentives, providing only 14 parking spaces for all of these high-impact uses is grossly inadequate and will produce unacceptable burdens on a neighborhood that is already lacking in parking because of many other demanding businesses, as well as the beach.

After viewing the impact of roof deck installations at Skyloft and Mozambique, we find that they do not just involve a few tables on the roof—all the appurtenances are a part of making roof deck areas visually like another room on top of buildings that are at or already exceeding the height limit. Umbrellas become an additional roof. They are almost always up, and they serve a dual role of providing shade and advertising the restaurant to the passing public, distracting from the historic character (in the case of Skyloft) and adding to the mass and scale of the building (in the case of Mozambique). Lighted railings are an additional distraction, commercializing the skyline of the buildings and lighting up the night sky. Elevator towers also protrude. 

We urge the Commission to draw the line now and reject this and other rooftop decks and any expansion of those already approved.

We share the neighbors’ concerns about noise, lighting, and parking impacts, and unless this project is appreciably scaled down we agree that further environmental examination in the form of an EIR is warranted. 

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President

Trees at the Valido Trail Entrance to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

Village Laguna's December 13 Letter to the Beach City Council (a similar letter was sent to Stacy Blackwood, Director of OC Parks):

The Board of Village Laguna supports the efforts of staff to save the heritage grove of Eucalyptus cladocalyx at the Valido Trail park entrance near West Street in South Laguna. We thank the mayor and council members who quickly took action to inform staff of the tree removal in process, and we appreciate the quick imposition of a stop work order.

We hope that now we will ensure that the trees will be protected.

The grove is on the candidate heritage tree list under Paso del Sur “Eucalyptus cladocalyx grove.” The original grove was planted by the first homesteaders in this area, William and Bertie Egan. Their homestead was recorded in 1910 and thus the grove and its descendants long predate any of the residences in the area. The tree plantings were essential for the Egans to “prove up” their claim and get approval from the federal government for taking title to their 40-acre homestead. The original Egan home still exists nearby. The water tank at the end of West Street was built on land that Mrs. Egan donated to the community, and all of the lots along Paso del Sur, Valido, and Rico Roads were created from the Egan homestead.  

The trees are important to providing context for the homesteading period of Laguna Beach history and they present the opportunity to tell this important story at the park trail entrance with interpretive signing. Eric Jessen points out that they serve as critical roosting spots for the owls that call in the neighborhood.

We suggest that, to avoid crises and last-minute efforts to save trees as occurred in this case, the council approve all of the candidate heritage trees that are on public land as full-fledged heritage trees and institute a  process of review before significant trees are removed.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President

Grading and Channelization of Aliso Creek

Village Laguna’s June 4, 2016, letter to the Coastal Commission Re: 5-15-1670-Al(SOCWA) :

As stakeholders in SOCWA's Aliso Canyon sludge pipeline replacement project and participants in the EIR process three years ago, we had expected to receive notice of the permit hearing. Instead, we learned of it by chance only this week, and therefore this letter will be reaching you rather late. We hope that you will nevertheless be able to give our issues your consideration and vote to reject this replacement project.

The resource management plan of the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park stresses “preserving the park’s natural resources and providing recreational opportunities and public access with minimal impact on those resources.” It doesn't mention conveying sewage. A wilderness park is obviously no place for a sewer, and we would like to see all of the pipes removed from it eventually. This is the first opportunity we have had since the park was created to remove any of the existing sewer pipes from the canyon, and we are hoping that you will take advantage of this opportunity by rejecting SOCWA’s proposal.

Even if the location weren’t a wilderness park, the pipeline alignment is known to be highly vulnerable to erosion. As the staff report for the project makes clear, locating a new pipeline in the same place as the existing one depends on the eventual ability to protect it with something like the SUPER Project first proposed several years ago, with its 26 dams, channelization of the creek, and massive grading. Indeed, the bank stabilization plan proposed here, invasive as it is, is admittedly adequate only for ordinary storms. The “potential, future federal project” mentioned by staff as eventually providing permanent creek stabilization is, as far as we know, unfunded and has yet to receive public review, and if it is like the original in its environmental impact, it is likely to be controversial.

Moreover, increasing public concern about protecting ocean water quality, conserving energy and water, and reducing the production of greenhouse gases all call for new, integrated approaches to the handling of sewage. These approaches are increasingly becoming available, and their costs can often be managed with federal or state grants or by public-private partnerships. Simply replacing a 30+-year-old pipeline in kind and in place is a step in the wrong direction.

The EIR for the project identified two alternatives to the pipeline as “environmentally superior:”  solids handling at the coastal treatment plant and trucking. Treatment of solids at the plant would generate electricity, and it would save water because it would no longer be necessary to add water to the sludge to move it through a pipe. Trucking would, according to the EIR, save energy and reduce the production of greenhouse gases, and its additional impacts on air quality would remain below the South County Air Quality Management District’s thresholds.

We suggest that trucking be adopted as a temporary measure while a comprehensive plan is developed for treating sewage sustainably and eventually moving all of the sewage infrastructure out of the wilderness park. If this became the objective, it might be the first step toward a self-contained system, with more recycling, that would make it unnecessary to go on dumping treated sewage into the ocean.

We hope that you’ll agree with us that this problem calls for a thoughtful twenty-first-century solution and encourage the applicant to pursue one.

Sincerely, Ginger Osborne, Acting President, Village Laguna

In 1999 the U.S Army Corps of Engineers conducted a Watershed Feasibility Study on the Aliso Creek Watershed and identified a number of water resource issues including erosion, habitat damage, and exposed sewer lines, coupled with high levels of bacteria from urban runoff. Since then Corps of Engineers and the county have been conducting a study on how to deal with these problems. The first version of a solution, known as the SUPER Project (for Stabilization, Utility Protection, and Environmental Restoration), has long been on hold for lack of funding but has recently resurfaced in the form of the Aliso Creek Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.

Village Laguna opposed the SUPER Project because of its massive grading and channelization of the creek, which runs through a wilderness park. We participated in the scoping for this study in 2009, arguing that destroying the existing riparian vegetation, grading the canyon floor, and placing concrete and rock in the creek would be devastating to the wilderness park and inconsistent with Orange County’s General Plan,  

Five years later, the study has received new funding and is expected to be complete by the end of next year. Unfortunately, the long-awaited alternatives turn out to be simply minor variations on the original. All of them have dams (now called not “drop structures” but “pools and riffles”) and armoring of the banks of the creek. The “ecological restoration” of the creek ecosystem will come only after the canyon has been graded and the creek has been equipped with concrete structures (16 now, rather than the original project’s 26) designed to keep it in its (new) place.

The study is expected to be distributed for public comment in March 2015, and Village Laguna will be reiterating its concerns about the approach. Problems with the SUPER Project approach and suggestions for better alternatives can also be found at the Laguna Greenbelt.

Village Laguna’s contribution to the 2009 scoping session for the Aliso Creek Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study reads as follows: <Read More>



Preliminary Comments on Proposed Cultural Arts Plan

Village Laguna’s February 29, 2016, Comments

Village Laguna appreciates that this Cultural Arts Plan has provided the opportunity and forum for focusing on the artistic life of our community. It gives us many topics to consider. 

However, the document’s recommendations seem to be almost solely based on opinion as expressed in a community survey. Yet we note that 40% of the respondents do not live in Laguna Beach. We are disappointed that, rather than being a professional analysis and evaluation of the state of cultural arts in Laguna Beach, the plan seems to concentrate on facilities and it jumps to the conclusion that a new cultural arts facility is needed. Yet, in the workshop we attended the group devoted to that topic concluded that such a facility is not needed. In addition, there are many other aspects to a cultural arts plan which we feel have not been covered.

The plan is lacking a complete planning foundation: It includes an inventory and description of existing facilities, but analyses of existing programs, assets, and participants are missing or incomplete.

Facilities: The location, function, size, limitations, and opportunities of existing cultural venues. These have been charted, but it is not clear why these are inadequate for our needs.

Programs:  Inventory of existing arts programs administered by the city and by private organizations. This needed to verify needs for expanding offerings, and to decide where City investment might be offered for maximum benefit.

Assets:  Inventory of existing public art, along with a professional evaluation of the collection. What are the most valuable pieces?  How should the collection be managed in the future? What criteria should be applied for future acquisitions?

Artists:  Inventory of artists residing and/or working in Laguna Beach, their housing and studio situations. What is the magnitude of the affordability problem?

Arts Organizations:  Inventory of organizations, their goals and functions. Are there overlaps or gaps that need to be filled?

Arts Commission:   A comparison of the functioning and effectiveness of the Arts Commission to similar bodies in other jurisdictions. The plan makes a recommendation for changing the public arts selection process, and raising the contributions for public art but the reasons for those changes are not explained.

Art Education:  Classes especially for community members, youth, and adults, should also be an important part of a cultural arts plan. LOCA and the Sawdust do part of that, but much more could be done, especially since LCAD has ceased their community arts programs.

Arts Funding: The plan should examine present City contributions to arts organizations and programs and evaluate the benefits of these expenditures.


We strongly feel that it is premature to recommend a new arts center, and we raise the following concerns:           

The document states that such a center would be affordable to user groups only if it is heavily subsidized, and the document doesn’t suggest who will subsidize it and how such a facility will be supported. Continual fundraising by existing performing arts and museum venues suggests that such a new arts center will likewise not be self-supporting.

The suggested location at the Village Entrance (not “formerly known as the Village Entrance” as stated on p. 5) is problematic in that it would intensify use, access, and parking problems in the Festival area. Summer use of that area is already at capacity. In off-season times when there is not a conflict, the Festival grounds and forum theater are available for other public uses and seem to be underutilized.

The financing and large size of the previously proposed parking garage for this location proved to be unpalatable to the community and the plan to build it was rejected in 2013. Another large facility that generates its own parking demands and which likely requires similar bonded indebtedness will likely meet a similar reception.

We suggest that the City explore its potential role as facilitator in encouraging various organizations to work cooperatively in meeting the community’s arts needs.

It could be less expensive for the city to subsidize rentals in existing facilities rather than to build a whole new facility at large cost that would be available for free or minimal rental.

We have found in recent experience that it is not possible to fulfill all the desires for new constructed features in the community.  Yet our needs can be met with creative solutions.

The Skatepark committee did not find a location for the skatepark that was wanted, yet they made recommendations for fulfilling those needs in other ways.  The same with senior housing/assisted living.  We now have the beginnings of a program to help seniors to age in place.

We support the idea of an on-line community calendar of events. That was first attempted by the Woman’s Club, but the system wasn’t used by the organizations having events. It appears that the system would have to be staffed to be sure the calendar is reliable and up-to-date.

However, it is not needed nor is it desirable to add 286 performances/events per year to the Laguna Beach calendar of offerings. As it is, competing events vie for public attention and support, and nearby venues—Soka, Saddleback, UCI—offer cultural programs for large audiences. It is not reasonable to imagine that all of our needs can be met in the town of Laguna Beach, population 22,000. We do not want to be all things to all people but we do have a responsibility to maintain a peaceful and lovely environment for the people who live here.

Remember that residents appreciate the off-season quiet time in Laguna Beach. The goal of the plan should not be to raise the level of activity city-wide and fill every available time slot with more events. An important part of appreciation of the arts is the opportunity for prolonged, silent contemplation.

Laguna Beach as an art colony with international cachet:

The statement on page 12 about Laguna Beach being an “international arts destination” is in conflict with p. 8 of the Appendix where respondents said they were more interested in local art opportunities and not with “international” profiles. 

Art communities emerge for various reasons. Laguna Beach started with one artist who was enamored by the light, the beauty of the area, the weather and its affordability. He told his friends and they too came and stayed. They formed a colony of artists who worked as plein air painters. They inspired each other, developed ways to market their work and built their shared reputation as part of the California impressionist school. No one planned that, it came about because Laguna has an inspiring setting, artists found it, and the movement was timely. 

Expansion of the themes, art innovation, and leadership in the international art world is something that can’t be artificially injected from outside, it must arise spontaneously from the souls of the artists. It seems likely that with the Laguna Beach landscape being as beautiful as it is, it will continue to inspire artists the way it always has. If someone wants to paint like Jackson Pollock, for example, the artist doesn’t need to be in Laguna Beach to do it. So inasmuch as International art trends are developing based on other inspirations it seems unlikely that Laguna Beach artists will be the ones who become leaders in those trends. The Cultural Arts Plan should not focus on artificially sustaining or directing the artist community but on providing an open creative atmosphere and fostering public interest in the arts.

Laguna still has that light, the good weather, and much of the beauty but it is no longer that affordable. Since the early 1900 Laguna Beach has been able to sustain its artists and its reputation as an artist’s community but now many artists can no longer afford to live or work here. 

We support programmatic ways or subsidies to assist artists, but question whether constructing new facilities is either a desirable or a financially sound way to provide economical artists housing. 

Funding:  The plan is very far-reaching and ambitious in the ways it expresses expanding the arts. The plan states that the local fundraising environment is difficult and the plan relies heavily on funding from the City to sustain and expand the arts and states, “the City will be the lead agency for most recommendations.” Given that the City has many funding obligations and competing important uses for its funds, the cultural plan should prioritize its recommendations and emphasize City funding contributions that are most related to the overall welfare of the city as a whole.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

View Restoration

Village Lagunas Letter to City Council concerning Public Trees, February 2, 2016:

IMG_Public trees.jpg

RE: Proposed draft ordinance for View Restoration of City Maintained Vegetation

Village Laguna opposes applying the City’s view complaint procedures to public trees.  Our mission is to preserve and enhance the unique village character of Laguna Beach, and our trees are an integral part of that character.   Losing or diminishing them will degrade the village character and inevitably the quality of life that is so closely tied to it.

In addition to the threat to the village, we have other concerns:

First, trees have environmental benefits. They provide shade and comfortable outdoor spaces.  They reduce the energy needed to cool buildings.  They reduce carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming.  Many cities have embarked on programs to plant more trees because they recognize their many contributions to the environment.

Second, according to staff, there has been only one complaint about the view impact of a City tree in the past year, and staff was able to resolve the problem with the concerned citizen.  Why should we write a new ordinance to fix something that “ain’t broke”?

Third, there are practical difficulties. The public trees belong to the whole town, and yet the proposed ordinance makes them vulnerable to modification or removal to serve the interests of individuals.  Providing for the public as a whole to be represented fairly in a complaint process would be nearly impossible. Although a number of ways of noticing residents are included in the proposed ordinance, only individuals within 500’ of the subject tree would be individually noticed when the tree could be of importance to people much farther away, as well as to the whole city.

Finally, opening up a new process for complaints will likely stimulate more discontent and unhappiness as people look to exercise their newly granted “rights” to seek some improvement to their views.  Processing these complaints will mean that those who cherish the public trees will have to appear on a regular basis to defend them.  There will be more controversy, more ill will, more sadness, more win/lose situations.  Our community doesn’t need more of this.  Rather, we need to work together for the benefit of the whole community and get to know our neighbors under positive circumstances.

We urge you to reject this proposal and continue to support the City staff’s responsible management of the trees that belong to all of us.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

The View Restoration Committee’s proposed ordinance for processing view complaints about publicly owned trees was presented for comment to the City Council on February 9 and rejected unanimously.


Village Laguna’s Letter to View Restoration Committee concerning Public Trees, November 2, 2015:

 <Read Letter>

Proposed Improvements to Laguna Canyon Road

The City Council has appointed a task force to look at ways to accomplish the following on Laguna Canyon Road:  improved emergency response and evacuation time, improved traffic flow, reduced congestion and decrease in travel time, improved safety for bikers and pedestrians, improved circulation and access for public transit, improved drainage and decreased flooding, and retention and improvement of the rural character of the canyon. Village Laguna is represented on this task force and is advocating for preservation of the rural character of Laguna Canyon, undergrounding of utilities (relocation not acceptable), increased pedestrian and bicycle safety, improved public transit, and no additional vehicular travel lanes. The Land Use Element says, “With the exception of right turn lanes, oppose any attempts to widen Laguna Canyon Road oceanward of El Toro Road.”  <Read More>

Village Laguna’s Letter to City Council, September 8, 2015

Village Laguna has participated in the Laguna Canyon Road Task Force over the last seven months and  has reviewed all of the related materials and studies. Our positions are guided in part by the consultant’s major finding that almost 60% of the traffic on Laguna Canyon Road consists of pass-through trips that neither originate nor terminate in Laguna Beach. We don’t want to encourage an increase in traffic that has no destination in Laguna Beach.  <Read More>

Historic Preservation Ordinance Review

Village Lagunas Letter to the Heritage Committee, Sept. 12, 2016:

Dear Heritage Committee Members,

We’re disappointed that there isn’t a revised draft of the historic preservation ordinance to be reviewed at this meeting. We assume that you’ll be continuing the discussion to a later time so that you can see the changes in language you requested last month before making a final decision. In the meantime, we have some comments on the way things are going.

We continue to be concerned about the treatment of C-rated properties in the August draft.

Item 19 on Tuesday’s City Council agenda is a good example of our future if the ordinance robs C-rated properties of their historical significance.  The applicant is requesting removal of a C-rated house from the historic register in order to make modifications to it that the Heritage Committee and the Design Review Board have found inconsistent with its status. Staff’s argument against removal from the register is a very clear and convincing statement of the protection a C-rated house has under the existing ordinance:

“The applicant states in the application (pp. 5-55) that since the structure is listed as a ‘C’-rated structure on the Historic Register, by definition it is not individually historic, and therefore does not meet the criteria of a Historic Resource. Staff disagrees. The current Historic Preservation Ordinance (LBMC Section 25.45) provides that ‘C’-rated, Contributive structures are eligible for placement on the Historic Register, and that structures that are eligible for listing are considered Historic Resources.”

Under the proposed ordinance, the house at 337 Hawthorne Street would not have the protection of being a historic resource and could be altered out of all recognition. We don’t think this is what you want, and it’s certainly not what we would like to see.

Since we were last before you, we’ve consulted an attorney who specializes in historic preservation and CEQA, and the following are some of the things we’ve learned:

1. If a structure has historical value locally (e.g., by being listed on a local register of historical resources), it falls under CEQA (Section 21084.1). A structure that has once been declared a historical resource as part of a survey should be treated as a historical resource unless there is a preponderance of evidence that it has changed (“Understanding Identification of Historical Resources,” CEQA Case Studies, August 2015).

2. Applying CEQA procedures to C-rated structures need not be onerous. A C-rated structure does not have to meet all the Secretary of the Interior’s standards when undergoing alterations if local guidelines have been established to mitigate or avoid significant adverse changes (Section 15064.5(b)(4)).

3. An ordinance that significantly downgraded the status of C-rated structures by declaring them not historic resources would itself require an EIR, and it is difficult to see how the elimination of protection for and potential loss of some 400 structures that the City has long treated as historic resources could be mitigated to the level of insignificance.

From this it appears that we can provide both CEQA protection and appropriate flexibility for altering C-rated structures without creating excessive difficulties for homeowners and staff. We hope that you’ll adopt this approach, continue to recognize C-rated properties as historical resources under CEQA and develop a set of local guidelines for C-rated structures as you put the finishing touches on the new draft.


Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna; Greg O’Loughlin, President, South Laguna Civic Association; Ann Christoph, Becky Jones, Barbara Metzger


Village Laguna’s Letter to the City Council, July 14, 2015:

We object to the formation of a Council subcommittee to work with the Heritage Committee and city staff on the Historic Preservation Ordinance for the following reasons:

The normal sequence of reviews and recommendations should occur, with the Heritage Committee review, followed by the Planning Commission review.  After the Commission makes its recommendations, the Council will have ample opportunity to approve or change components of the ordinance.  With the subcommittee approach two council members will have two opportunities to direct the content of the ordinance.  This is not appropriate.

All meetings on the ordinance should be noticed public meetings.  We are aware that a private meeting was held between staff, some members of the heritage committee, one councilmember, City attorneys and a private attorney who may be representing some property owners.  This is not an appropriate way for the city to do business and solidifying this process by appointing the Council subcommittee would be in violation of the Brown Act, unless all meetings were in public.

“…if a legislative body designates less than a quorum of its members to meet with representatives of another legislative body to perform a task, such as the making of a recommendation, an advisory committee consisting of the representatives from both bodies would be created. Such a committee would be subject to the open meeting and notice provisions of the Act. (Joiner v. City of Sebastopol (1981) 125 Cal.App.3d 799, 805.)”

California Attorney General’sOffice, The Brown Act, Open Meetings for Local Legislative Bodies , 2003

In the past council subcommittees have met in private with staff and others to develop direction on future efforts.  We object to this practice since it allows projects to go forward for long periods of time without the benefit of public input.  The VillageEntrance parking garage is an example of a subcommittee coming forward with a plan that proved to be publicly unacceptable. 

Please direct the Heritage Committee and Planning Commission to proceed with the ordinance in the normal course.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna