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Laguna council and board to discuss possible design review improvements

Laguna Beach City Hall.
The Laguna Beach City Council will meet with the city Design Review Board on Tuesday to discuss possible improvements.
(File Photo)

The Laguna Beach City Council will meet with Design Review Board members ahead of the regular council meeting Tuesday to discuss ways to improve the board and the city process before appointing three members to the panel and making a slew of appointments to other city committees.

The special meeting follows a heated night Jan. 8, when Councilman Peter Blake proposed opening all five positions on the board, including those of members Caren Liuzzi and Meg Monahan, whose terms don’t expire until March 2020.

The council instead amended the proposal to allow for Tuesday’s meeting time with the panel. Each board member will give a five-minute report suggesting ideas to improve the design review process.

Blake said he would like to see “the next group of Design Review members who understand architecture and design and that will look at this objectively, that do not have deep-rooted views in Village Laguna’s politicized agenda and that will allow the residents to express themselves through their homes and through their desired architecture, their desired designs.”

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Blake has repeatedly accused Village Laguna, a local organization that seeks to preserve Laguna Beach’s historical buildings, downtown and trees, of influencing the city’s planning process. The first-time councilman, who was elected in November, made overhauling the DRB and other parts of the city planning process one of his main campaign issues.

Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna’s board of directors, has said Blake is “ignorant about Village Laguna” and that his claims are untrue.

The more than 40 residents who spoke at the Jan. 8 meeting split on whether the DRB needs improvement and how to do it.

The board’s defenders said the DRB has successfully mediated issues among neighbors while protecting the village character of Laguna Beach. Several said opening all five seats for reappointment, as Blake originally proposed, would be unfair.

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Residents who agreed with Blake’s proposal said board members have treated residents unfairly and made excessive and costly requirements. Some said DRB members should be better trained. Blake has called for member term limits.

“To me, it’s not the board members,” Mayor Bob Whalen said at the Jan. 8 meeting. “What you heard is a ton of frustration about even getting to a hearing — too much money, too much time, too many things falling through the cracks.”

Ten people have applied for the three available seats on the Design Review Board, including incumbent Deborah Neev.

In addition to the board appointments, the city must interview five applicants and select one for the Measure LL Audit Oversight Committee, which is tasked with reviewing Measure LL year-end expenditures to ensure spending is prioritized to protect beaches from pollution, provide emergency services, place utilities underground, improve public cleanliness and perform other services.

Measure LL, a ballot initiative passed in 2016, increased the occupancy tax for tourists staying in Laguna for 30 days or less from 10% to 12%.

The council may choose to add more than one member to the committee, according to a staff report.

The council also will interview seven residents for five spots on the Environmental Sustainability Committee and five applicants for four appointments to the Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee. It also will fill spots on the Recreation, Heritage and View Restoration committees and the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District board.

The joint City Council and DRB meeting will begin at 5 p.m., and the interviews and appointments will begin at 6 p.m. in the council chamber at 505 Forest Ave.

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