Laguna Beach ballot measure could require public vote on larger projects

Passage would put OC city would join Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Dana Point with “greenlight” law for bigger projects

Laguna Beach and Pacific Coast Highway sign (iStock)
Laguna Beach and Pacific Coast Highway sign (iStock)

Voters in Laguna Beach might get direct say on the biggest developments in the coastal enclave.

A measure on the November ballot would apply to development projects along Pacific Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road, letting the public cast a deciding vote when certain conditions are reached for size, parking and traffic, the Orange County Register reported.

A vote would be triggered if a project contains a site larger than 7,500 square feet, a building taller than 36 feet in height, has more than 22,000 square feet of space or may add at least 200 more vehicle trips a day.

The Laguna Beach initiative excludes single-family homes and apartments of less than 10 market-rate units, or those limited to low- to extremely low-income households.

If passed, the city would join the Orange County coastal communities of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Dana Point in enacting “greenlight laws” that compel residents to vote on projects that exceed identified thresholds.

The measure was introduced by Laguna Residents First, a political action committee that collected more than 2,000 signatures to place it on the ballot. The group said it wanted more resident input on new, larger-scale developments whose traffic and parking can impact the community and unique look of Laguna Beach.

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“Due to the natural limitation of the city’s size, proximity to the beach, the level of developments dictates the need for careful management of further intensification of land use in the city,” the initiative states. “The look and feel of Laguna Beach, including the rural and eclectic Laguna Canyon, walkable commercial districts, tree-lined streets and a variety of low-scale buildings require protection.”

Some council members,however, said they feared the measure could scare off developers from building entertainment and fine dining establishments, would add a greater layer of bureaucracy to the building process, and might come with unintended consequences for the city.

The council directed city staffers to look at a competing ballot measure that might find other ways to address residents’ concerns about scale, height and parking.

“People are concerned we’ll have monolithic developments,” Mayor Sue Kempf said. “The municipal code and the City Council don’t support that type of development. Maybe we can come back with something more palatable.”

A development approval measure passed by Costa Mesa voters in 2016 has resulted in a city struggle to meet state housing requirements. Since then, only one larger-scale development has been proposed, according to the newspaper. A special election for the public vote on the proposal – which the council has approved – has not been scheduled.

[Orange County Register] – Dana Bartholomew

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