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Laguna Beach council to review measures to streamline design review process

Laguna Beach City Hall.
The Laguna Beach City Council will discuss streamlining parts of the city’s design review process at its meeting Tuesday.
(File Photo)

After months of back and forth, the Laguna Beach City Council is expected to take steps Tuesday to simplify the city’s design review process.

The council will consider changes that would make it easier for residents to get approval for adding air conditioners and pool or spa equipment to their properties administratively, without going through the Design Review Board.

The proposed amendment also would transfer review authority on non-residential and public works projects from the DRB to the Planning Commission and cut the number of days required for staking — which involves tying ribbons to poles in the ground to measure a project’s size and density — from 28 to 14.

However, DRB members do not support all the recommendations, according to a city staff report. The board defended the number of staking days, noting that residents had complained that a previous requirement of 10 days was too short.


Another proposed change would streamline the administrative design review appeals process. Instead of appealing an application to the DRB, a person could petition the City Council directly. The DRB also contests this measure — claiming city staff would not have enough time to make neighborhood visits and assess the situation, according to the staff report.

Laguna’s often-lengthy design review process has been the subject of several actions and discussions at recent council meetings.

The council first seriously discussed overhauling parts of the DRB at a testy meeting in January. The next month, DRB members suggested several improvements to the council, including more educational community outreach.

In March, city staff presented the council with a community development action plan outlining several of the items up for review Tuesday. The upcoming agenda item also includes recommendations from the Planning Commission and the DRB.


Some residents argue the design review process is in place to mediate opposing neighbors’ perspectives — such as ocean views or noise quality — and should be preserved. Councilwoman Toni Iseman said some requirements were put in place to counter other issues, such as someone installing an air conditioning unit right below a neighbor’s bedroom window.

“These things all come about as a result of problems in the past,” she said. “I think we’ve learned some good lessons.”

Others, including Councilman Peter Blake — who made reforming the DRB a tenet of his campaign last year — have said the process is too convoluted and arbitrary.

Blake blamed the design review process for taking away property owners’ time and resources and architects’ ability to design unique homes in Laguna. Only property owners who can afford it survive the lengthy review process, he said, leaving the town littered with “McMansions.”

“The will of the people ... is to make the building process in this community easier and more streamlined and to make design review what it really should be: just a group that has oversight over some of the building situations, not to make arbitrary decisions from unqualified people,” Blake said in an interview Friday.

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the council chamber at 505 Forest Ave.

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