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

Detailed Responses and Information

Cleo Street Project

Village Laguna’s November 7, 2018, letter to the Planning Commission:

Once again you’re being presented with a dramatic intensification of use on the Coast Highway, and we hope that you’ll encourage the applicant to think smaller.

The municipal code has limits on hotel-room density for a reason: to preserve an “appropriate visual and functional interrelationship between residential and commercial uses.” There’s absolutely no reason that a hotel that’s being built from scratch shouldn’t conform to the code’s requirements.  We hope that you’ll reject the applicant’s suggestion that the code simply be changed to accommodate his proposal, which would of course affect not only this project but all future projects.

Cutting the project back to an appropriate size might also solve a number of other problems that the staff report has identified—insufficiency of parking, height and view blockage, and neighborhood compatibility issues—and what we consider a predictable increase in traffic in an area that’s already heavily used by shoppers at Ralph’s.

We hope that the final plan will follow through on the applicant’s expressed commitment to replacing the 14 existing apartments elsewhere in the City with a very specific proposal for doing that.

Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna

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

Information on Cultural Arts in Laguna Beach

Siân Poeschl, Cultural Arts Manager of Laguna Beach, spoke to Village Laguna on Nov. 27, 2017, 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.

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, 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)


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>