Initiative For Public to Vote on Laguna Beach Development Moving Forward

By Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey
Brandon Drey is a California-based reporter for The Epoch Times.
January 10, 2022Updated: January 10, 2022

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif.—A local activist group submitted enough signatures for a possible ballot initiative to the Laguna Beach City Clerk’s office Jan. 10, which could give residents a chance to approve major development projects in the coastal community.

“We believe passage of this initiative will raise the bar to bring better projects to Laguna Beach,” Chris Catsimanes, a board member for Laguna Residents First, a non-profit residents’ organization established in 2020, said in a statement. “It will also encourage developers to consider resident’s concerns, leading to faster approvals of good projects.”

Last year, the organization created the “Beautiful Laguna Overlay Zoning District Ballot Initiative,” a zoning measure—if approved—that would apply to some projects on Laguna Canyon or Pacific Coast Highway—the only two major roads providing access to the city.

The group’s goal with the ballot initiative, they said, is to preserve the town’s “heritage and charm.”

David Raber, a principal officer for the resident’s organization said he believes Laguna Beach residents will vote for the initiative come this November.

“There was a very positive response,” to the initiative while out gathering signatures, Raber told The Epoch Times. “I think people in town will take a careful look and approve the things that will improve Laguna and I think they’re also not going to look kindly on another cookie-cutter hotel.”

The new potential law would put developers at the mercy of residents—a trend shaping other Southern California cities like Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.

If approved, any development that exceeds the city’s current 36-foot height limit, or spreads over 22,000 square feet, or increases traffic with 200 or more daily trips would be subject to a public vote.

Projects that provide less parking or combine large building lots will face residents’ approval, too.

Peter Blake, a Laguna Beach City Councilmember who opposes the initiative, said Laguna Beach already has a “tough reputation” for building new businesses or remodeling current establishments—and the proposed law would only stifle the city’s future growth.

“The initiative has always been an attempt to usurp the will of the people via the ballot box,” Blake told The Epoch Times. “They act as if it’s only huge developments to collect signatures, but in reality, a restaurant could trigger a public vote.”

Blake also said signature gatherers were disingenuous with information and have blown the issue of over-development out of proportion.

“When you threaten people with the loss of their small-town community and all of their quaintness and charm, of course, you’re going to get people to sign,” he said.

A city study on the fiscal impact of the new rule, if passed, will be reviewed by the Laguna Beach City Council on Jan. 11.

Highlights from that report include the possibility that if approved the city would face a downturn in development due to “a significant element of risk and uncertainty” of projects and the city would lose approximately $2 million over five years from property taxes, sales taxes, and hotel taxes.

Volunteers collected approximately 2,600 registered voters’ signatures. The Orange County Registrar has until Feb. 23 to verify at least 2,000 as valid.

If verified, the issue will be decided by Laguna Beach voters in the November 2022 general election.