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. If there is no red link, the full information is posted below on this page.

  • Village Entrance
  • Undergrounding utilities and concurrent funding
  • ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units)
  • Tree Removal
  • Landscape and Scenic Highways Element
  • Short Term Lodging [on Dec. 14, the CCC ruled against Laguna. We currently cannot enact our ordinance restricting new STL to the commercial zones.]
  • Grading and Channelization of Aliso Creek
  • Information on Cultural Arts in Laguna Beach
  • The Truth about Village Laguna
  • Historic Preservation
  • Coast Inn Project
  • Climate Change
  • Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) recognition for Laguna Beach and the Laguna Greenbelt
  • Downtown Specific Plan
  • Restoration and Development at Coast Inn and Coast Liquor Store
  • Trees at the Valido Trail Entrance to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Preliminary Comments on Proposed Cultural Arts Plan
  • View Restoration
  • Proposed Improvements to Laguna Canyon Road
  • Historic Preservation Ordinance Review and Creation of City Council Subcommittee
  • Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel at San Onofre

Detailed Responses and Information

Village Entrance Project

Information on the → city's website

Village Laguna’s August 7, 2018, letter to the City Council:

Last December 6th at the Village Enterance workshop, the minutes show that at Kelly Boyd’s suggestion, you decided to include a restoration of the outside of the historic sewage digester as part of the Village Entrance Project. Surprisingly, this part of the project wasn’t included in the plans that went out for bids, so you have before you only the plan for patching and painting that staff seems to prefer. Tonight’s staff report refers to and gives an estimate for work identified in a set of plans that Morris Skenderian drew up last year, but it doesn’t include those plans or any details that would allow evaluation of the cost estimate you’ve been offered. Since the staff report says that there won’t be access to the winding stairway to the roof, we suspect that the work doesn’t include restoring the original deck to the left of the tower, and we wonder what else might be missing. We hope that you’ll call for the required historical report to guide this work and then process the plans through the Heritage Committee as you would for any other such project. The task will be much easier than usual in this case because the City has the original plans and a detailed history of the construction and Morris’s list of things that need to be done to bring the building back to its original appearance. 

Another part of the project that you requested in December and that also somehow became “optional” in the bidding process was replacing the chain-link fencing with something more pleasing. We think that the proposed replacement fencing is higher than it needs to be and may not be perfectly child-safe, and, besides that, it would cost nearly four times as much as chain-link. We’d like to suggest that you shop around for a more appropriate alternative, maybe the kind of fencing used at Bluebird Park.

As staff points out, the plans for these two items will have to be sent out for bids, and we recommend that, to avoid any further misunderstanding, you hold hearings on the proposals before that is done. At the end of that process we’d like to see the costs included in the base contract, as you originally intended, with funding identified for the whole package.

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Village Laguna’s February 2018, letter to the City Council:

The Board of Village Laguna wants to thank the Council for the direction you gave at the last hearing on the Village Entrance.  Thank you for ensuring the restoration of the Digester building, keeping the permeable paving, diversifying the trees, rejecting the chain link fencing, and choosing elements that will echo the details of the Festival entrance area.

While you gave general approval to go ahead with the next stage of design development, we are concerned that several items should have further Councll and public scrutiny before the project is approved to go out to bid:

  1. Tree preservation plan—to be clear that the maximum number of existing trees are being preserved.

  2. Planting plan—to see how the changes described in general in the agenda bill are implemented.

  3. Lighting fixture choices and layout—the choices and locations of lighting fixtures.

  4. Fencing—to review the fencing design that replaces the chain link fence.

  5. Details on the Digester restoration

Will you please direct that more detailed plans on these items come before you prior to finalizing the drawings?

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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> 

Undergrounding Utilities

Village Laguna's July 17, 2018, letter to City Council

Village Laguna members understand the public safety benefits of undergrounding utilities, but we oppose the new tax and the associated bonding proposed to pay for it. The enormous debt will place severe constraints on funding for other projects over a period of thirty years. Meanwhile, technological advances that are already on the horizon seem likely to change the way we receive electrical power, making undergrounding obsolete well before we have finished paying for it.

If you place the new tax on the November ballot, we will be encouraging a No vote on it.

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Accessory Dwelling Units

Village Laguna's May 8, 2018, Letter to City Council

As we said in our last letter on this subject, we’d like to see the City do everything possible to ensure that the units constructed under this ordinance will be affordable as the state legislature intended. 

The original staff report recognized that the existing maximum size of 640 square feet and the formula for calculating unit sizes within the maximum help keep units affordable, and accordingly we encouraged you not to change them. We’re pleased to see that the formula has been restored to 7% of lot size, but we’re disappointed that the maximum unit size is still going to be increased to 750 square feet. This seems inconsistent with the City’s objectives in adopting the ordinance.  

We hope that you’ll consider keeping the units small and therefore more likely to be accessible for the people this ordinance is designed to help.  

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Village Laguna's March 6, 2018 Letter to City Council

We’re in favor of affordable housing and helping seniors stay in their homes, so we’re sympathetic with the state’s objective in making it easier to build accessory dwelling units. The problem we see is making sure that those units will be affordable as the legislature intends.

While the staff report points out that the current maximum size and the formula for determining unit size within the maximum both help to do this, the proposed ordinance increases both of these. This seems to us like a step in the wrong direction. To fulfill the intent of the state law, our ordinance needs more incentives to build deed-restricted affordable units such as the one
allowing them to be built on 4,000-square- foot lots. We wonder if it would be possible, for example, to offer a square-footage bonus (within the maximum) for ensuring that the unit will be affordable.

We encourage you to consider adding such incentives before you adopt the revised ordinance.

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Tree Removal

Village Laguna's May 8, 2018, letter to the Laguna Beach City Council re Tree Removal Process:

The Board of Village Laguna wants to thank the Council and staff for the draft ordinance before you tonight that outlnes procedures for handling permits for requested removal of trees. Establishing a permit system should go a long way toward solving the tree removal emergencies and unnecessary loss of trees that we have experienced in recent years.

The proposed ordinance summarizes the requirements already in the Municipal code for proposed removal of Heritage Trees, trees approved as part of a Design Review approved landscape plans and trees in the public right of way. It gives further information on procedures and formalizes the permit process.

We suggest that there be a provision built into the ordinance that makes it clear that any one proposing to remove a tree is required to check with city hall in advance to be sure that either they should apply for a permit, or that no permit is required. To accomplish this we suggest that the ordinance require that the property owner post next to the tree in question, either their permit or a document provided by the City that says that no permit is required.

Regarding Section 12.06.030 and restrictions on removal of trees during the nesting season, it seems to us that because the state and federal laws apply to all trees, those nesting season restrictions should apply to all tree removals not just to Heritage Trees, Design Review trees, or the right of way trees.

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Village Laguna’s October 10, 2017, letter to the Laguna Beach City Council:

Thank you, Council, for considering these important protections for Laguna’s trees.  

We have had too many tree emergencies—trees being removed without public notice or review.  There have been too many last minute calls to Council members asking for City intervention.  Some of these instances turned out to involve trees that should have been protected, yet it was too late by the time the concerned residents and the City could mobilize. 

One by one we lose the trees that are so important to the village character of our city.

Requiring permits for tree removal is essential to keep these kinds of instances from happening again and again.

There are many details to explore to create an effective and fair ordinance, but we will not be starting from scratch.  Cities such as San Juan Capistrano, Walnut Creek, Hayward, and Santa Barbara have tree protection ordinances that include permit processes. 

Please move forward with drafting an ordinance.   Village Laguna stands ready to contribute to this process.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Landscape and Scenic Highways Element

Village Laguna's April 10, 2018, Letter to City Council

We agree with staff that the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element shouldn’t be reorganized as the Planning Commission has suggested. In its present form it fits comfortably among the existing elements of the General Plan, and all the information in it seems interesting and valuable. We encourage you to adopt it essentially as written (Option 1), with the edits that the Design Review Board has recommended and those recommended by the Planning Commission that the consultants have agreed are appropriate. This will be the most cost-effective approach and the one involving the least delay.

Option 3 would include a number of changes that we consider uncalled-for. We  oppose shortening the introduction and the landscape profile, removing the “Sustainability” section, incorporating the Fire Department’s and the Public Works Department’s unjustified additions with regard to fire safety, eliminating the reference to community gardens on public property, and numbering the entries in the glossary. Finally, we believe that there’s enough information in the element to develop a plan for tree replacement in the downtown, and therefore we oppose the hiring of an outside consultant to duplicate this effort.       

We appreciate the commissioners’ desire to do this job “right,” but we think that’s already been done.

Sincerely,  Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

Short Term Lodging

Information  on The City Website

Dec. 8, 2017 Village Laguna Letter to California Coastal Commission, Mr. Jack Ainsworth, Executive Director and Commissioners:

Village Laguna has always been a strong supporter of the California Coastal Commission. Our mission statement includes working to protect and restore our ocean and coastal habitats so we are usually working for the same goals.

The other part of our mission statement states that we want to preserve and protect the unique village character and cultural heritage of Laguna Beach. In many cases, we also align with the Commission on issues that impact these values. In the case of short term lodging (STL) in residential zones of our city, however, we feel this part of our mandate is threatened, and we would be quite surprised if the Commission did not support us in this.

<Read More>

Please allow us to institute our ordinance which limits STLs to the existing legal establishments in residential zones but allows plentiful expansion in the commercial zones where most of the desired amenities exist. Consider the balance required between providing visitor access and maintaining the very charm they’re coming to visit. Also consider fairness to the local residents who have been doing a heroic job of hosting more than our fair share of visitors, providing them with more than adequate lodging, recreational and beach access while maintaining the original charm that draws them to Laguna Beach.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

On Dec. 14, 2017, The California Coastal Commission ruled against Laguna Beach. We currently will not be allowed to enact our ordinance to restrict new STLs to commercial zones only. More to follow. For information on individual STL applications, go to:

Grading and Channelization of Aliso Creek

See also the Save Aliso Creek Website

Nov. 28, 2017 Village Laguna Letter to Eduardo T. De Mesa, Planning Division, US Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angesles District: 

The Aliso Creek Mainstem Ecosystem Restoration Project Feasibility Report lists as a key planning consideration “avoiding increase in manmade structures with visible construction elements (such as concrete) that would not be esthetically consistent with the natural setting of the Wilderness Park” (p. 6). Nevertheless, it doubles the number of manmade structures earlier proposed, in addition to grading five miles of the canyon, removing all of the vegetation, displacing or destroying wildlife, armoring the creek banks, raising and altering the course of the creek, and dumping 300,000 cubic yards of dirt in the park.

<Read Full Letter and see History>

Village Laguna General Meeting, Oct. 23, 2017

Derek Ostensen spoke about the status of the creek and the current version of the US Army Corp of Engineers Superproject. Village Laguna has opposed this project in the past, and the new version. 

Derek provided a summary of the current situation. 

See our October newsletter for a good article on the project.

In 2009, a report was commissioned by the City of Laguna Beach to define the City's objectives for Aliso Creek and to evaluate the Superproject and Army Corps Feasibility Study with respect to the City's objectives. The report (memorandum) was written by Nick Garrity and Andrew Collison of PWA.

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.

<Read More>


Information on Cultural Arts in Laguna Beach

Siân Poeschl, Cultural Arts Manager of Laguna Beach, spoke to Village Laguna on Nov. 27 about the Citys Cultural Arts Plan. The following links provide even more information: 

AEC presentation from Nov. 8 Public Town Hall:

What is ARTSPACE?:

Arts and Economic Prosperity in Laguna Beach:

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Plan:


The Truth about Village Laguna

Column by Ann Christoph in 11/17/17 Laguna Beach Independent

It's Just the Perception: The truth of the matter is something else again. How do urban legends/false perceptions live on? Do people really believe false statements if they are said often enough? The past elections proved that they do, but somehow I thought Laguna would be different, that we are small enough that there are independent ways for people to glean the truth for themselves. Last week I was proven wrong and it was so upsetting that I couldn’t write my column. I had to wait to let it settle in my mind.

I was invited to be part of a group interview with the consultants for the Arts Commission’s Creative Placemaking project, which is to “assist in determining how the City can ensure Laguna will remain a vibrant arts and creative community.”

To get background on our community they wanted our group of Lagunans to talk about the status of the arts in town, the issues we face, and what our hopes are for Laguna Beach of the future. Our diverse group included an artist, photographer, architect, realtor, gallery owner, restaurant owner, former arts commissioner—earnest, involved people who had obviously been thinking about these matters for awhile. This is some of the discussion:

The core of an arts community is artists, but how can they continue to be in Laguna when the cost of housing is so high? How can the next generation of artists survive?

Solving this is key to maintaining Laguna’s soul. The early artists came here because of the beautiful and dramatic landscape, the quality of the light, and creative atmosphere. Their work came from the spirit of the place. That connection is key to keeping the art of the festivals genuine and honestly innovative and keeping the galleries from being just outlets for works produced elsewhere.

What facilities are available for the arts? And do we need a new facility—an arts center?

The general consensus was that there are many underutilized facilities in town. The city would better spend its funds to subsidize and coordinate the full use of existing spaces before thinking about a new building.

We told the story of the Greenbelt, appreciating the natural frame it creates around town and how the community fought so hard to preserve it.

There was a lot of talk about the downtown. Some thought that it was not lively enough, that Laguna had lost its “edge” of years past, and urged converting Forest Avenue to a pedestrian plaza like the trial one at Park Avenue and Coast Highway.

Then, amid all the productive talk about our future, came this startling comment, “But there is a group in town that just says no to everything and the Council placates them way too much.” There were nods all around. “Really? And what group are you talking about?” I asked. “Of course, everyone knows—it’s Village Laguna.” Without the work that Village Laguna has done and continues to do, we would lose the special Laguna character the group had praised earlier in our discussions, I maintained.

Since I have been on the board of Village Laguna for years, I know the untruth of both parts of their accusation. We say yes a lot. We support preservation of the Greenbelt, and urged creation of Main Beach Park. We supported the larger park at the Montage that everyone now appreciates. Our members helped write the Downtown Specific Plan, and we are working with the Chamber of Commerce to update it. We were active in obtaining the national recognition of Laguna and the Greenbelt as a Historic American Landscape. We say yes to saving and planting trees, and beautifying our town. We say yes to historic preservation, key to maintaining the distinctive character of Laguna.

We do say no sometimes, but was it really so bad to say no to high-rise buildings along our coast when we supported the 36’ height limit city wide in 1971? Or when we say no to intense oversized development that will damage neighborhoods and the image of our city?

And we don’t get placated. We work very hard to understand the issues facing us, and present thoughtful responses and suggestions. When the village entrance design was proposed to be just a parking lot with a narrow landscaped path instead of a park, we joined with the Beautification Council and developed a plan with more generous landscaped spaces. We illustrated what could be done and submitted it to the city. We strive to contribute and work for positive solutions, but only sometimes are our efforts successful with the council.

Sometimes I think council members are reluctant to agree with us. Would they be accused of being on “our side” because of pervasive impressions such as those I had just heard? How sad that we seem to have “our side” and “the other side” when we should all be working together for the protection and betterment of our very special town. The false perceptions seem very difficult to change.

Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former mayor and city council member. She has been an active community volunteer since 1971 and is involved with many committees and organizations including Village Laguna and South Laguna Civic Association.

Historic Preservation

Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition's October 18, 2017, letter to the Planning Commission

We have been participating faithfully in the planning process related to the City’s historic preservation program and ordinance since late 2015.  We have attended every meeting and workshop, have studied the materials carefully, and made timely and focused comments.  Even after five long and broad-ranging hearings at the Planning Commission we find that the resulting ordinance is deficient in multiple ways.   We cannot support the ordinance and we urge you to vote NO on the documents before you.

We have raised many issues repeatedly in prior hearings that have not been responded to nor are they reflected in the draft ordinance.  These include:

  • Protecting “C” contributive (6L) properties by providing demolition controls (25.45.020 and 25.45.028) and review by the Heritage Committee; including them as eligible for the Historic Register and eligible for the State Historic Building Code.  As a result the ordinance as written will result in cumulative loss of those structures.
  • Incorporating Design Review and Heritage Committee comments, policy decisions in handling “C” (6L) properties and recommended changes to the ordinance including:      
    • Revision to the definition of “Demolition” to include damage to the historic integrity and significance.
    • Provide for the services of the historic monitor during construction
    • Inclu de guidelines 25.45.014 (C) that provide for preservation of the property’s historic character and integrity. 
  • Creating a complete inventory of historic resources and avoiding the arbitrary 70-year cut-off standard for historic consideration, the one-at-a- time historical evaluations and the resulting expense for the city and uncertainty for property owners.  
  • Providing for a “written agreement” to preserve a historic building without it being part of placing the property on the Historic Register is an unnecessary and confusing component in the ordinance, since the goal and content of both agreements would be the same.
  • Providing for the creation and simultaneous implementation of the “Style Guide” as part of the ordinance package.
  • Resolving internal inconsistencies that still plague the document.
  • Avoiding policy changes that not only do not implement but are contrary to the General Plan and the Historic Resources Element or the Residential Design Guidelines.

There are many additional problems in the present draft and we list a number of these here.  With more time to review we are prepared to produce a detailed critique when the item is considered by the Council or at a future workshop with the Commission should you decide to reject this version of the ordinance.

  • The use of terminology is not consistent, for example, the terms historic resource, significant resource, and historic structure are used interchangeably and not all are defined.
  • The strikeout version of the ordinance is not consistent with the final text of the ordinance in the agenda packet.
  • There is a lack of process for 6Ls to apply for incentives.
  • The term “historic fabric” is introduced which is not defined and where “historic integrity” would be more appropriate. 25.45.012 (E)
  • Allowing 6L structures to install “similar or new” windows and doors when previous drafts required “in-kind or similar.”
  • Disclosure requirements do not include 6Ls or properties on the Inventory.
  • Contributive properties--C’s (6Ls) should not have to have other similar C (6L) properties nearby in order to be protected or considered to be Cs (6Ls). 25.45.004 “Contributive property” (3) 
  • Limit of 15 parking space incentive for historic preservation may not be appropriate to all buildings and may unduly discourage historic preservation. 25.45.010 (A) (3)
  • The concept of allowing more incentives depending on the extent of historic preservation is a faulty one, since the preservation is to comply fully with the Secretary of Interior Standards in order to qualify for any incentives.
  • An appeal of the director’s decision regarding whether a property is a historic resource was first to be heard by the Heritage Committee if there was a question.  This draft would require an expensive appeal to the City Council as the only recourse. 25.45.006 (C) 
  • 25.45.010 (N) (1) would appear to apply to residential structures but the wording only says “structures.”
  • 25.45.010 (G) and (L) need examination and a rewrite.
  • The definitions include “historic landscape” yet there is nothing in the ordinance that directs how these landscapes are to be evaluated or preserved.

These observations represent only a few of our concerns with this ordinance.  

The Commission should not assume that because we are recommending a NO vote on this ordinance and others will also recommend voting NO for other reasons that you have struck an appropriate compromise where each side is just a little unhappy.  That is not the case.  This ordinance is not well written nor is it good public policy. The Commission should reject it.

Laguna Beach Preservation Coalition (Ann Christoph, Johanna Felder, Norm Grossman, Becky Jones, Barbara Metzger, Greg O’Loughlin, and Verna Rollinger)  

“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

<Read More>


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

Coast Inn and Coast Liquor Store Restoration and Development

“Sometimes the Answer is ‘No’,” Village Matters column by Ann Christoph, The Indy, Oct. 13, 2017
                         Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former City Council member.

Last week, the Planning Commission made “No” very clear to the Coast Inn applicants who sought a roof deck and other large additions in the context of a historic restoration to the 1930s hotel. This project sells itself as a historical restoration of a 24-room hotel and liquor store, yet it includes 352 restaurant/bar seats including a 175-seat roof deck, which the original hotel never had. For all these uses the project provides 13 parking spaces, even though the parking demand is 197 spaces.

The forest of umbrellas and heaters on the roof would decidedly detract from the historical character of the restoration and essentially add another level to the already massive building. Roof top additions violate the city’s 36- foot limit.

The commission’s unanimous denial was preceded by their comments regarding the lack of authenticity of the historic restoration; the questionable status of the project as a minor remodel considering the extent of the structural and other modifications needed; misuse of parking credits; the damaging effect of the roof top deck; and the impacts on the neighborhood.

The commissioners were well prepared; their comments were clear and fact-based. Perhaps their analysis has benefitted from previous cases where compromises were struck—trying to accommodated an applicant whose requests turned out to be over reaching. Carefully crafted compromises may be sometimes appropriate, but there are cases where the skills of compromising are wrongly applied.

Permissions to add restaurant seats and roof top dining in other cases have caused severe noise and parking impacts on surrounding neighbors. Umbrellas increase the apparent heights of buildings, and rather than being a subtle festive look, they serve as another form of advertising for the restaurant. Complaints, hearings, over and over, have consumed the energy of the neighbors, planning commission and council.

Another application, for the Drake restaurant and jazz club at the former Tabu Grill near Nyes Place, proposes to expand the restaurant into the space next door, increasing the seating from 56 to 89, and the occupancy to 110.
The restaurant has five parking spaces allocated to it in the rear of the building. The rest of the customers will be valet parked under offices next door in a lot that has 14 spaces, plus room for two motorcycles. There are four additional non-permanent spaces behind the veterinary office. Where will the other customers park? In the fictitious “grandfathered spaces.” Another case of too much in very confined and busy spot.

How will this not affect the neighbors above Hinkle Place? The Planning Commission did not approve the expansion, but the City Council is in the process of approving it pending expanded width on the neighboring driveway.
No one counts the impact of the stress and trouble that the neighbors have to endure to get small concessions in the operation of a restaurant that is too large for its location. Residents should not have to make it their life’s work to keep their neighborhoods as quiet and delightful as they found them.

Rather than being sympathetic and accommodating, the applicant for the Coast Inn seems to view residents as impediments to the projects he wants to build. In his comments in the Indy last week he seemed to want to get even with the objectors to his project rather than find ways to bring about a project that would be compatible.

We should follow the Planning Commission’s lead and say “no” more often. This is not an unfamiliar experience in the development world. It is part of doing business, especially when the development proposal pushes the envelope.

Local resident and real estate consultant John Thomas asks, “While it is so difficult to build a house in Laguna, why does the city seem to over compensate on the business side? Approving projects that are overreaching–beyond what the rules allow. What is the purpose of encouraging ever-increasing commercial intensity in Laguna Beach? In my day job I do financial analysis for developers. They get their proposals turned down all the time and they are used to being turned down all the time. In Laguna Beach we need to just say ‘no’ more often. The most successful developers are those who look at the rules and design reasonable projects.”

Village Laguna’s October 4, 2017, letter to the Planning Commission

Village Laguna and its Board of Directors 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 (1930s to 1940s).  Rather, features are added that are not historical and that negatively 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 Secretary of Interior’s standards.

Standards for Rehabilitation

The following actions are not recommended in the Secretary of Interior’s Standards 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)

“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. 75)

We question whether the project is a true rehabilitation since so many of the features “which 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 recreating these features.

The historic rehabilitation or reconstruction work should be done in accordance with the definitions of those processes by the Secretary of the Interior.  It should be accurate for the period of significance (1930s–1940s), should not be based on conjecture or combination of features from other eras, including 2017.  E-ratings are only recommended in Ostashay’s report if original and significant character-defining features of the building are restored and rehabilitated in a manner consistent with the Secretary of Interior Standards.

We are concerned that an E-rating has already been recommended when there are so many discrepancies with the Secretary of Interior Standards.

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 which does not include the impactful rooftop decks.

Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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, 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.”

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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,&nbsp; 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)&nbsp;

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>

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

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