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LAFCO Votes Down Laguna Beach Annexation of Laguna Laurel Area

Times Staff Writer

Laguna Beach city officials, fighting to keep development out of pristine Laguna Canyon, were handed a setback Wednesday when the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission voted against annexation of the planned Laguna Laurel development by the city.

However, at its March 1 meeting, the commission will consider placing the Irvine Co.-owned development within Laguna Beach’s sphere of influence, which could allow the Laguna Laurel area to be annexed in the future.

The city had requested that LAFCO approve annexation of about 2,500 acres of land in Laguna Canyon, including the 1,600-acre Laguna Laurel project.

Although the commission decided on a 5-0 vote to exclude Laguna Laurel from Laguna Beach’s annexation proposal, it also unanimously decided that at its March 1 meeting it will consider annexation of a 900-acre area east of Laguna Canyon Road that is already in the city’s sphere of influence.

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“We feel a very special affinity for that canyon and would like to have a say about what happens in that canyon,” Laguna Beach Mayor Robert Gentry said after the LAFCO meeting, which was attended by about 10 Laguna Beach city officials and residents.

Gentry said annexation was sought because city officials believe that the Irvine Co.'s plan for a multimillion-dollar housing and commercial project in a part of Laguna Canyon does not coincide with the desires of many Laguna Beach residents to preserve the wilderness area.

“It’s not that we’re out taking land,” Gentry said of the city’s effort. “It’s the geography of the canyon, it’s the name of it and the history of it” that belongs to Laguna Beach, he said.

Discussion ‘Premature’

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In opposing Laguna Beach’s annexation plan, Irvine Co. official Carol Hoffman told the commissioners that “discussion of annexation at this time is premature.” Hoffman noted that the property is still undeveloped and requires no municipal services.

Gentry told LAFCO that the city is the “logical” agency to provide services to the area, which will also include a school within the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said the city’s hopes of gaining any control of the Laguna Laurel area are in vain without agreement by the Irvine Co.

But Hoffman said after the meeting that she could not say whether the company would ever agree to annexation of the property by the city.

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“It’s hard to speculate at this point. The city has been unwilling to discuss development for any of our properties,” Hoffman said, adding that if the company does not want the area to be annexed, the county would be able to provide such municipal services as police and fire.

The County Board of Supervisors on April 27 approved a development agreement for the Laguna Laurel project on a 3-2 vote, one of a series of such developer agreements approved in advance of an unsuccessful slow-growth ballot measure last June.

The Laguna Laurel project calls for 3,204 housing units, 475,000 square feet of commercial space and two golf courses. The agreement requires the Irvine Co. to help the county finance $14 million in road improvements and provide 17.4 acres of open space. The firm must also conform to other county requirements and provide another $36.7 million in road improvement financing and 1,340 acres of open space.

The Laguna Laurel area previously was within Laguna Beach’s sphere of influence. But LAFCO removed it from the city’s sphere in 1981 at the request of the Irvine Co.

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