Opinion: Why support a voting initiative even if it is imperfect?
By Joe Hanauer
By the end of the year, letters to the editor regarding the pros and cons of the Laguna Residents First (LRF) voting initiative turned into personality attacks from various sides. No matter how engaging they are to read, it’s too important a topic to get lost in tabloid-style rhetoric. As I pointed out in my guest column a few weeks ago, this is less about disagreement over Laguna’s retention quest.‘s charm, but rather, how can this best be accomplished. Is LRF’s proposal in fact the ultimate solution to ensure healthy development?
If you have the patience to wade through the personality threads in Letters to the Editor, you can find some valuable insight into what LRF supporters hope it might accomplish. In fact, there is a basket of different results that people are hoping for and this is one of the reasons LRF is flawed. This‘It’s like a Senate bill with every politician‘interest got stuck.
Indeed, many well-meaning proponents fear that the wrong types of development will be approved. This includes block monolithic structures; too much density; violation of the 36 foot height limit; and sterile and uninteresting architectures. I and many others who are opposed to LRF agree and share many of these concerns.
At the same time, some promoters are looking to the initiative only to block proposals that are currently on hold, as they‘I am concerned that the city council won‘t.
Still others have signed in hopes of stopping the growth in visitor numbers to Laguna. There seems to be contempt not only for tourists but also for businesses. The economic value that businesses bring to the city, their contributions to the city‘s arts and charities, and their services to residents seem to be of no value.
Let‘s become real! The only way to reduce the flow of tourists is to drain the ocean. As long as we have the gifts of the sandy beaches and our beautiful pond, we will have tourism growth. Trying to limit tourism growth is a fool‘s race. Determining how to better manage the impacts of the growth of tourism is one of the priorities. With LRF, it‘is not.
The LRF proposal tries to fix everything and will therefore do nothing but serious damage. This‘s basic economy. While the approval process for some projects involves a lengthy public vote, time, cost and lack of predictability will reduce the amount of investment attracted to the City. The result will be that the very charm that LRF aims to maintain will be hampered due to the reduction in investment. The necessary upgrading of the City‘s deteriorating commercial buildings will be suspended and the cost of redeveloping even small projects will increase. At the same time, reducing upgraded commercial inventory will significantly reduce supply and increase rents. These results will be the product among other elements of the proposal, requiring that every construction project that touches the proposed trigger wires should be put to a public vote. Projects that could include as few as 10 apartments, combining lots totaling 7,500 square feet or converting a small retail space into a dining room would face a costly, time-consuming and unpredictable public vote.
Now you‘to hear again a growing number of people acknowledging that there may well be flaws in the proposal, “… but we have to do something and if this‘is defective, it can be changed. Not so fast. To change the faulty initiative, it will take another ballot initiative. Think about the time, money and debate this initiative takes and we‘we still have almost a year of one vote left. Canceling or modifying it will take the same thing and if the modifications do not‘do we pass‘I’ll be stuck with what is clearly a destructive handcuff game over the city‘the future.
Let me go back to where I started: letters about personalities rather than issues. My previous guest column generated multiple responses. Positive and critical. Interestingly, the theme of most of the critical responses was that I was wrong when I gave the LRF as an example.‘s consequences, had it been in place, the Old Pottery Place would have‘I wouldn’t be here today. These reviews are from people I know and appreciate who could easily have called me to ask for the basis of my complaint.
Therefore, for these reviews, there are three reasons why this would be the case. I‘I’ll give you one and you can look for the other two. Square feet have been added to the site. Therefore, the project exceeded the size defined in the ballot initiative and it would have required a long public vote. The combination of delay, cost and risk‘t have made the renovation economically feasible. As I said in my column, instead of The Old Pottery Place, an attractive destination that contributes to Laguna‘Due to its history and character, there would be a Rite Aid of almost a block at this important location in Laguna.
This is simply an example of what the LRF poll initiative would likely have produced and why it‘is the wrong solution. We need assurances that our municipal processes will work. City staff have been tasked with doing an analysis of what can be done to strengthen controls. From what I understand, we should see the report shortly after the first of the year. Let‘s work together to see what it says, then craft solutions with the city that not only work to build an even better Laguna, but don’t‘t lead to unintended and damaging consequences. It may even be that a ballot initiative is a solution but not that of LRF.
Editor’s Note: Joe is a long-time Laguna Beach resident, commercial real estate investor and former CEO of Coldwell Banker’s Global Residential Businesses
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