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Laguna council to tackle finances, historic preservation and community development

Laguna council to tackle finances, historic preservation and community development
The Laguna Beach City Council meeting begins with a special session at 3 p.m. Tuesday followed by the regular meeting at 6 p.m. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

City finances, historic preservation and improvements to the Community Development Department are on deck for Tuesday’s Laguna Beach City Council meeting.

The panel plans to meet at 3 p.m. for a two-hour review of the city’s five-year financial forecast. Growth in the general fund — which pays for everyday expenses — will exceed expenditures by .1% annually in the next five years, according to the forecast, which considers the possibility of an economic recession.

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City staff recommends the council establish financial reserves for information technology and review existing cash reserves and departmental fees to account for inflation and changes in services.

At the regular meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., city staff will give a mid-fiscal-year budget update showing unanticipated surpluses in 2017-18, according to a staff report.

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The general fund is $2.6 million higher than expected, largely because of an increase in property tax revenue and savings on expenses. Measure LL, a tourist occupancy tax, also brought in $418,000 more than expected.

Parking lot and meter revenues, as well as lower parking enforcement and maintenance expenditures, led to a $658,000 surplus in the parking fund. There were also surpluses in the sewer and street-lighting funds.

In order to increase revenue, City Manager John Pietig proposes a 5% increase in building and planning fees and a 15% increase in zoning fees as early as July 1. The bumps would bring in $325,000 in new revenue and cover some of the Community Development Department’s personnel requests, according to the staff report.

Staff is also asking the council to approve adding positions for the Public Works, Human Resources and Senior Services departments.

Historic Preservation Ordinance

After years of discussion, the City Council is expected to take the next step in amending the historic preservation ordinance. The council will review a draft ordinance that would make historic preservation of properties voluntary and incentive-based.

Under the amended ordinance, a property would be designated as historic only with the owner’s consent. The proposal would eliminate a controversial inventory of historic properties, expand incentives to list properties on the historic register and do away with age requirements for historic designation.

The staff report also proposes adding a full-time historic preservation planner to guide potential applicants.

Community Development Improvements

In response to requests from the City Council and complaints from residents, the Community Development Department has crafted an action plan to improve services. Council members made improving the department’s processes a priority for 2019 at a meeting last month.

The plan would streamline parts of the design review, zoning plan check and building plan check processes, upgrade departmental software and provide more training for city staff, the Planning Commission, Design Review Board and the public.

The proposal suggests hiring a high-level planner to process large developments, a planning technician to process applications, a counter supervisor to oversee customer service and a building division office specialist to support code enforcement.

As part of the streamlining efforts, staff recommends amending the municipal code so that air conditioning units can be approved over-the-counter; creating a waiver process for minor coastal development permits; and reducing the number of days for staking a project from 24 to 14.

The action plan also proposes improving the counter and lobby area and closing at 4 p.m. daily to give staff more time to respond to customer requests, according to the staff report.

The financial workshop begins at 3 p.m. and the regular council meeting follows at 6 p.m., both in council chambers, 505 Forest Ave.

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