Laguna Beach to form land trust to address need for affordable live-work spaces for artists

Laguna Beach City Hall.
In trying to find solutions for the need of affordable living and work spaces for local artists, the Laguna Beach City Council has directed city staff to issue a request for proposal for a consultant who would facilitate the establishment of a community land trust.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Looking to address a need for affordable housing and workspace for its artists, Laguna Beach plans to establish a community land trust to work toward that goal.

An artist work-live ad hoc committee was tasked with identifying a funding mechanism that could make headway on the issue as among its top priorities.

“The committee found that the community land trust would have the greatest impact for the city of Laguna Beach,” said Jennifer Savage, the city’s housing program coordinator. “Their considerations in finding this included that the community land trust could maintain affordable housing in perpetuity, utilize donations — not only monetary but also real property, take those resources and blend housing units into the fabric of Laguna Beach, and focus on artists.


“It would also be able to, through the community land trust, focus on seniors and the local workforce.”

The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to issue a request for proposal for a consultant to facilitate the establishment of a community land trust. The housing and human services committee would provide oversight.

Savage described the proposed trust as a nonprofit organization that would be able to acquire and hold onto land, keeping the housing affordable by cutting out the cost of land. It would have the ability to acquire a variety of properties, including single- and multifamily housing, mixed-use and commercial.

“I’m looking forward to getting a group of community members to participate in a nonprofit that will help lead the way with this trust and start to actually get some housing created,” said Councilman Mark Orgill, who worked on the artist work-live ad hoc committee with Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi.

A board of directors would govern the land trust. A model referenced in the staff report suggested that a six-member board would include two community members at large, two residents of the community land trust and two stakeholders.

Resident Ann Christoph, who addressed the City Council during its meeting this week, appeared uneasy about the land trust being in the hands of a nonprofit. She was concerned about whether acquired property would permanently serve the intended purpose of adding to the affordable housing stock.

“It seems to me that the city should be running these trusts because the city is the most stable organization that we have,” Christoph said. “If people are going to donate land or donate houses or apartment buildings or whatever, they want to make sure that it is really going to be that way forever.”

In a 2019 arts market study, 48% of respondents expressed an interest in affordable artist housing, according to a staff report. The most desired locations were in the downtown area and along Laguna Canyon Road, sections of Laguna Beach that possess art galleries and the city’s signature festivals — Art-A-Fair, the Festival of Arts and the Sawdust Art Festival.

About a third of the study’s participants expressed interest in private studio space and shared creative space, respectively.

The Laguna Beach Community and Recreation Center has four connected classrooms that could be put to use to meet some of the demand for artist work space, city officials said, although it would not be equipped to handle large projects.

“We looked at large fabrication equipment, industrial equipment, would the [Community and Recreation Center] be a good site for that,” Assistant City Manager Jeremy Frimond said. “The preliminary feedback is maybe not. There might be a corner that could facilitate sculptures, but by and large, that’s a smaller individual working space, and the city should keep its eyes open for opportunities for a larger industrial space for woodworking and industrial equipment use for maker space.”

Council members asked city staff to engage directly with the arts community to help formulate ideas on how best to utilize the available classrooms at the Community and Recreation Center.

The panel also directed city staff to return with an ordinance to eliminate the discretionary hearing requirement for artist work-live occupancy.