To City of Laguna Beach
Design Review Board:
First of all I would like to thank you for the time and effort you are
devoting to the “mansionization” problem here in Laguna Beach. It is
without a doubt one of the key issues that will determine the future of
our city and our neighborhoods and I appreciate the opportunity to add to
Two years ago (October 2000) a proposed remodel in our neighborhood
came before the Design Review Board for approval. For our neighborhood,
this proposed home fit Norm Grossman’s recent explanation of
mansionization. Its appearance, size and its incompatibility with its
neighbors was a problem and resulted in substantial neighborhood
opposition. At least seven Design Review Board hearings were devoted to
this proposal. Ten or more neighbors attended each hearing, letters of
opposition were submitted to the file as was a petition signed by
neighbors opposed to the project.
We pointed out to the review board that the new home constituted a
156% increase in the size of the existing structure. The proposed second
story would not only block views but would tower over the neighbors to
the south and southwest. The home would overwhelm its corner lot (one of
the smallest lots in the neighborhood) and it would be out of proportion
with the existing single story houses that ranged from 1,102 square feet
to 1,761 square feet. The home would be approximately three times the
size of the surrounding properties.
After seven review board hearings the proposal was approved mainly due
to “hearing” fatigue and an apparent disregard of an existing zoning
code. This code currently deals with compatibility, building mass, views
and sensitivity to the environment.
In response to this and to the threatening Driftwood Estates, the Hobo
and Aliso Canyons Neighborhood Assn. was founded to stop this from ever
happening again. However, we need comprehensive parameters and consistent
enforcement if we are to be successful in dealing with this problem.
In the article in the May 31 Coastline Pilot the recommendations made
by the Planning Commission concerning mansionization seem reasonable and
workable though not very concrete at this point. The idea in recent years
to allow some houses to exceed the maximum height to allow better views,
air or light or as a trade-off for other modifications imposed by the
review board only sanctions the overbuilding trend.
The sad truth is we have to stop someplace. As to garages, I support
two-car garages for all single-family residences and that they be used
for parking cars, not for additional rooms. To answer Norm Grossman’s
comment in the article that “garages are ugly,” they don’t have to be and
they are far better than looking at parked cars all day.
One suggestion that I would have is to ask the applicant how they see
their proposal fitting into the neighborhood. When I asked the owner of
the house on Ocean Vista what she thought of the neighbors’ concerns that
the house was too big, she said that she didn’t care what the neighbors
We are privileged to live in such a beautiful place as Laguna Beach.
It is important to oppose mansionization and support neighborhoods that
retain the charm of Laguna. If we allow profit and greed over quality of
life, what do we have? No quality of life, and isn’t that what Laguna is
I encourage and support your efforts to deal with this important
THERESA A. SEHI
Design Review Board
Dear Board Members:
I am a longtime and proud member of St. Catherine of Siena Church. The
church not only provides spiritual sustenance for the Catholics of Laguna
Beach, it also organizes and carries out a variety of charitable
activities for the less fortunate in our community. As such, St.
Catherine is an integral part of what makes our community special. That
is why I have been dismayed that the church has been unable to obtain
approval for its proposed remodel.
As you know, the church is quite old and has not been subject to
upgrade or remodel for some time. Much has changed since the founding of
the church. From purely a safety perspective, much of what the church is
planning to do should be viewed as necessary.
For a variety of reasons, the church has a significant older
membership. And the church is very important to those older members. The
entrance to the church is navigated only by a series of steps that are
not only difficult, but also can be dangerous, for our elderly members.
Not all that long ago, I waited with one of our older members for the
paramedics to come to take her to South Coast Medical Center after she
fell on the steps and put a deep gash in her forehead that required
several stitches to close. Fortunately, she recovered, but I cringe
whenever I see her trying to manage those steps.
Likewise, we all know that knowledge about secure foundations is much
greater today than at the time the church was originally built. The
remodel plans include both foundation retrofitting and an elevator, which
will greatly improve the safety of the church and its accessibility to
our elderly members.
I understand that some of our neighbors are concerned about parking
around the church. I also understand that there is nothing in the law
that requires the church to provide any additional parking for the
proposed structure. However, it should be noted that the church has been
and will continue to be considerate of its neighbors. In fact, each
week’s church bulletin includes a request that parishioners “please
remember our good neighbors” by not blocking driveways and/or sidewalks.
It also should be noted that the proposed remodel will not increase
the size of the church, but rather add additional office and meeting
space. As that space will not be used at the same time as church
services, parking requirements during peak times will not increase.
Parking required during use of the new facilities will be less than that
required for or during existing services, so existing parking will be
more than sufficient.
As a community, we should be considerate of other’s property rights.
However, those who acquire property near a church or a school, must do so
with the knowledge that others in the community will use the nearby
public streets as a place to park while attending a school or church
function. Accommodation is a two-way street.
I read with amusement that some have objected to the proposed remodel
because they will no longer be able to “cut through” church property on
their way from here to there. This strikes me as coming under the
category of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Apparently, these people
believe that because they were not stopped from trespassing on church
property in the past, they have the right to continue to do so in
perpetuity. I hope the board sees the absurdity of this claim.
I have seen renderings of the proposed remodel and believe that the
scope and size of the project is in keeping with the original design of
the building and with the character of the neighborhood. As such, I
believe that in addition to adding to the safety of the building, the new
structure will be a visual enhancement to our community and provide the
church with needed space from which to continue to extend its ministry to
our community’s less fortunate.
For more than 70 years, St. Catherine has been a good neighbor and an
important part of the Laguna Beach community. It wants to continue in
those roles. Much time has passed since the church was originally built,
and much has changed. To continue to be responsive to its members and the
community at large, the church also must change. The proposed remodel is
St. Catherine’s attempt to provide a space that is in keeping with its
original architecture, yet also is updated to address the needs of
today’s members and the larger community.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
I am thrilled that I happened to read this article this morning. I
have a major problem with the mansionization of Laguna. It has effected
me quite personally!
Two years ago I moved to Laguna from Balboa Island. I bought a
beautifully remodeled cottage on Canyon View with a view of Main Beach. I
was in heaven. I chose Laguna because of the quaint feeling of the homes
and the sense of community. I have always been impressed with how much
the residents care about their “special place” called Laguna.
Right after I moved in construction started across the street from my
home -- not on one lot, but two, for a 7,000-square-foot home. That
construction has lasted almost two years and started with the immense
grading and leveling of a hill lot.
The home now towers over my little cottage and is at least built up
from the street by 10 to 12 feet. They are almost complete now but there
is still a port-a-potty right out front.
Not only did all of us on Canyon View put up with huge inconveniences
during the building process, but to add insult to injury the new owner
called me the week he moved in and asked me to trim and replace some of
my trees -- two small olive and one very young sycamore. It is hard to
believe that a 7,000-square-foot home that is built up off the street by
10 to 12 feet, two stories with a huge deck on the second floor, would
even be hampered by my trees. My home is built down hill, at least 10
feet down from the street.
So I have decided to move out of Laguna. What completely surprised me
is why a quaint beautiful town like Laguna would allow these
monstrosities of wealth to be built here. What is the Design Review Board
doing? My other big question is why anyone who moves to Laguna would even
want to build these monstrosities? They must be attracted the quaintness
and charm, then they build the exact opposite.
Thank you for noticing and I hope you resolve this issue as I feel it
is a major problem.
A little late to fight mansions
In response to your question: “What can the city do to stop residents
turning their homes in mansions?” I would respectfully suggest that this
is a case of “shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.”
After the 1993 fire the city stated its intent to “put the
neighborhood back together” and those of us in the Mystic Park area
(Skyline, Caribbean and Tahiti) rushed out to replace our homes with
similar homes (2,000 square feet).
A number of owners opted to wait or sell their lots and in rushed the
speculators/builders with proposed homes of 5,000 and 6,000 square feet.
I protested in writing before the first one was approved and protested
subsequent approvals to the Design Review Board, all to no avail. I gave
up the fight as a lost cause when the review board and then the City
Council approved the adjacent home which, along with many others, were
more appropriate to Newport Coast or Coto de Casa.
It is now amusing to me to see the angst going on in some quarters of
city government. As long as the review board is made up of architects and
others who see size as irrelevant nothing will change. We will just be an
extension of Newport Coast.
How do you halt it? Please reread paragraph one.
PETER J. KIRBY
Superintendent’s proposal right on target
Residents of Laguna Beach are ecstatic with Supt. Theresa Daem’s
recommendation made to the Laguna Beach Unified District School Board on
Fri., May 31.
The recommendation, to transfer a current Top of the World attendance
area to El Morro, proves to be well thought out and thorough. Based on
the numbers and analysis presented, it is suited to be a long-term
solution to the disproportionate number of students currently enrolled at
the two elementary schools.
We thank Daem for keeping our neighborhoods intact and for helping to
preserve the character of our city. We appreciate that the school
district went beyond the necessary realm to incorporate the concerns of
many families. We hope that the school board members will be in full
support of this recommendation, and will continue to represent the
residents who are honored to call Laguna Beach their home.
TOM AND MICHELLE FALKOWSKI
City should think preservation, not profit
The Hobo and Aliso Canyons Neighborhood Assn. appreciates the article
in the May 24 Coastline Pilot covering the proposed Driftwood Estates
luxury home subdivision.
I would like to take this opportunity to comment on a couple of points
in the article.
The neighborhood association’s stance, as well as that of the Sierra
Club, is that this property should be preserved as open space in
perpetuity. It has faced decades of illegal grading, denuding and
chemical defoliation and has earned the right to be restored to its
original state and be preserved.
An 18-home subdivision simply is not appropriate and the
recommendation by the city staff to reduce this to a seven-home
development is the first “hint” that this is simply too dense of a
project for such sensitive habitat.
Morris Skendarian’s comment, “The project is not economically viable
with just seven lots,” indicates that perhaps he hasn’t received the
As the song goes, “This is nature’s way of telling you something’s
wrong.” This land simply will not and cannot support a subdivision -- of
any size. It’s a matter of preservation versus profit, Mr. Skendarian.
In the March 5 primary election, Laguna Beach voters delivered a very
clear message regarding their desire for preservation. In a phenomenal
vote for Proposition 40, over two-thirds of the Laguna Beach voters
displayed a stunning level of support for clean air, clean water, parks
and preservation. The precinct by precinct returns showed broad support
for Proposition 40.
Not only did Proposition 40 send an environmental message, it also has
provided us with much needed funds to purchase land and preserve it. We
understand a property owner has the right to a profit, but it doesn’t
require development to turn that profit -- let us prove it by giving us
the opportunity to buy it. A willing seller -- that’s all we ask for.
Hobo & Aliso Canyons Neighborhood Assn.; president, Save Hobo & Aliso
Ridge Task Force; Sierra Club task force leader
Low-income housing good way to go
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Laguna Beach is not
just one of the most unusual communities in Orange County, it is also one
of the most affluent as well. Most of us who live here know how fortunate
The unintended consequences, though, are that the cost of housing and
the cost of maintaining housing have become more and more expensive. And,
certainly, those most affected are the individuals and families of more
Over the last few years, the Laguna Beach Housing and Human Affairs
Committee has been working on the issue of affordable housing and housing
rehab in the context of an affluent city such as Laguna. Generally
speaking, most people approve of local low-income housing because it adds
to the diversity of the population base. Laguna Beach, with its special
characteristics and people, is very much in the forefront of this
movement. In addition, such housing provides a local base for many
moderate-wage employees, people who would ordinarily drive from out of
the area to work in our stores and shops.
Indeed, on the public side, the city has moved ahead in its desire to
improve its affordable housing stock. Recently, it purchased a facility
at 450 Glenneyre St. and is in the process of converting it into
approximately 30 low-income units.
Still, there is more opportunity. One area that has not been explored
fully is the existing rental housing inventory and whether any existing
units can be converted to affordable units.
What many people do not know is that there are programs offered by the
county and other various agencies that are intended to make lower-income
housing more economically interesting to those who have units to rent.
From a practical point of view, most property owners have been
generally cautious with regards to low-income housing. Most impressions
are usually less than positive. The reality, though, is that many of
those impressions are more perceived than real. Moreover, those who have
actually been involved in the programs are quite supportive.
The specific programs offered by the county, for example, are intended
to create tangible and economic benefits to renting low-income units,
benefits that can make the program attractive to property owners. Such
things include rent guarantees, flexibility and quick tenant turnaround
due to a waiting list of applicants. With regards to rental rates,
usually the most important factor to property owners, the rates for
studios and one-bedroom units can be competitive with the market (rental
rates for multiple bedroom units, though, are a bit less comparable).
Another program offered involves shared housing (i.e. renting a room).
Though perhaps not for everyone, this program offers attractive
reimbursement rates and is geared to moderate-income residents who wish
to augment their income by offering a room rental to a lower-income
On Tuesday evening, the Laguna Beach Housing and Human Affairs
Committee will be sponsoring an educational workshop to discuss these
issues further. The meeting will be held in the City Council Chambers at
6 p.m. Speakers will include people from the Orange County Housing
Authority, the Fair Housing Council, Rebuilding Together, as well as
In addition to affordable housing, other topics will include housing
rehab and ways to lower housing costs, issues that might be of interest
to Laguna residents on fixed incomes or those interested in knowing more
about existing housing assistance programs.
All are invited and welcomed to come.
Chairman, Laguna Beach Housing and Human Affairs Committee
Affordable housing would be blessing
Yes, Laguna Beach needs more affordable housing.
Some of us here in Aliso Viejo or Dana Point left our hearts in Laguna
to save a couple hundred to be able to afford to live.
I’ll be back in Laguna somehow soon, but it would be sweet if there
was more affordable housing. We don’t need Laguna to blend in with
Newport -- it has it’s own style -- Laguna’s soul shall remain.
Public transit good for business
Re: “Enough with the guff in public transit” (Coastline Pilot, May
Go to any shopping mall and look at the size of the parking in
relation to the size of the shopping mall. What if this space were put to
use selling merchandise instead of parking cars?
Go to any industrial park and compare the building to the parking
lots. What if this space were put to productive use?
The word subsidy for paying for mass transportation is the wrong word.
When employers and stores operate in Boston, New York and other cities
with mass transportation, they only pay for productive space. Only part
of the savings goes toward mass transportation. Lets tell the story like
it is with no “guff.”
North Laguna budget concerns
To Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman:
The North Laguna Community Assn. and its board are concerned that the
current budgeting process is not funding the projects and services most
critical to our entire community.
Our concern is based on the council’s apparent support for projects we
view as worthwhile, but as not having the highest priority in serving the
welfare of Laguna Beach as a whole. We are also concerned that no
discussion has occurred to determine how to deal with the likely loss of
$1.6 million of expected revenue for this coming year.
Given the importance of the budgeting process, we ask that there be
more community involvement and discussion, not only in selecting which
projects are funded, but equally important, which projects or services
will be underfunded or cut to balance the budget.
To that end, our community association recommends that budget items be
categorized three ways:
* Infrastructure: Support and services that are provided by the city
and critical to our community’s health and safety, i.e., fire,
paramedics, police, water, sewers, building, zoning, streets, etc.
* Revenue: Those projects that offer the opportunity to generate
additional revenue or at least be self-supporting, i.e. parking
structures, joint commercial development, Festival of Arts, etc.
* Community Serving: Projects that would provide community services
but are not infrastructure or revenue producing in nature and require
city funds to accomplish, i.e. community center, community clinic, etc.
We feel that city funds should be expended first to infrastructure,
then to revenue-producing projects, and if excess funding is available,
to community serving. We do not feel there should ever be trade-offs
between infrastructure and community serving or revenue-producing
projects. It is apparent that our city’s infrastructure is in a very
delicate state and needs major focus to prevent future catastrophes.
As examples, funds should not be shifted from repairing substandard
working conditions for city employees at the corporate yard or main beach
lifeguard headquarters to fund less critical community-serving projects.
Cutting city staff in the building and zoning departments to provide
funds for non-infrastructure projects would add to the work load of an
already overburdened staff and reduce further service levels to the
Our sewers are in desperate need of repair. Even with the 10% increase
in fees, we are only beginning to address the existing problems.
Additional funding to this critical part of our community’s
infrastructure is needed to protect us from the potential of millions of
gallons of raw sewage that travel down Coast Highway erupting from our
streets. Any delay of upgrades to fire and police infrastructure while
facing the driest year in history would cause us great concern.
In summary, we recommend the categorizations in this letter so all the
citizens of our community can begin to understand how and where our funds
will be spent. If it is necessary to make cuts to fund something that is
currently not in the proposed budget or because of revenue shortfalls,
then we will know what the council recommends we should give up to
balance the budget.
We think this city budget cycle represents a great opportunity for all
of us in Laguna to really understand how our taxes will be used in our
President, North Laguna Community Assn.
Don’t forget the importance of trees
Obvious motivations aside, Dave Connell’s Sounding off (“Can’t compare
trees in Carmel vs. Laguna,” Coastline Pilot, May 24) calling his critic
“wrong on all counts” cites several part truths, offers false information
and misses the real view except that which comes from his own one-way
True: This is a semiarid and south-exposed terrain with little or
periodic rain. For the most part only shrubs (native scrub) are on our
west-facing slopes. Oaks, sycamores and a variety of undergrowth as well
as plants such as dudlea are also native to cliff faces and canyons. At
least that is how it was historically before the eucalyptus was imported
and took hold, not to mention the pepper, coral, ficus, et al.
In fact, most plants in our gardens and nurseries are not native. It
remains to be seen if our weather conditions remain as they were, given
geological information and environmental factors that continue to alter
our climate toward another direction.
While nature endowed this area with open, spacious views from the
hills to the sea and upward toward the hills from the sea, the view
shared by our ancestors and early residents who arrived in this area now
looks upward and outward from and at the intensely overbuilt homes and
commercial buildings that are reaching critical mass.
This is quite a different view from that of early travelers marveling
at the gentle slopes and deep canyons and appreciating the eucalyptus
trees enough to record them for posterity in landscape and seascape
Artists came to Laguna over the past century and established it as the
Eucalyptus School with paintings looking through and at these and other
magnificent trees. They are becoming a symbol of Laguna’s coastal
environment and its reputation as well as the Riviera of the West.
Because of its light, also derived in part from the shadows and scale
of its trees, the contours of those eucalyptus trees and unfettered hills
are testimonials within highly prized collections of “what Laguna Beach
This is our trademark and used as extensively today as yesteryear in
brochures, photos and collectible memorabilia, in museum and gallery
exhibitions and as part of the Plein Air competition’s marketing
There are few or no remaining old-growth stands or really large trees.
We have cut down all the 100-year-old oaks along the canyon road and
ripped up most others that did not burn or stood in the way of
development. But it is not the trees that present themselves as permanent
obstructions to the view shed, but the way in which we have imposed
development into our views. We have placed our own needs and values
before ourselves and other life in the natural habitats. But that is
rarely spoken in the same vehement tones as Connell’s notion of view
Telephone poles, wires, roof lines, buildings and the cheek-to-jowl
massing of homes with glaring view glass are predominant no matter what
the view. This has dwarfed most of what was beautiful about Laguna’s
contour lines and landscape in favor of permanent light pollution and not
so pleasing structures. These are the real obstacles to the beauty and
life of the coast and hills that were painted and appreciated by artists
and earlier residents.
The recent Laguna Art Museum’s Lincoln Plein Air Invitational had
Marion Wachtel’s 1915 painting of a giant eucalyptus with the words
“legendary beauty” on its cover page and is the description of Laguna’s
noted fame through that view. We buy, sell and make money off that view
through those trees, but the likes of Connell remind us that they are
As with most uniformed bullies who whip the flames of anger against
the most innocent of targets, Connell’s tirade passes over the important
truths and offers only “if you dislike views and are overly fond of
trees, then find somewhere else.”
(In other words, move.) His final insult adds injury to our already
assaulted senses, citing trees as the fuel for potential injury and fire.
Certainly his tirade has found a place in his and other fuzzy minds of
those who will go so far as to pay others to cull trees from their sight
while applauding intense development that extracts the ultimate price.
Environmental, emotional and physical health depend on a balance, on
variety and open space and watershed in which to contemplate and create.
Trees add shade, moisture, shelter and scale to both the built and
natural environments. They are prunable, shapeable and add immeasurably
to the physical and emotional atmosphere as well as frame the view in
which Laguna’s reputation stands.
Unfortunately Laguna is looking more like Connell’s view than
Trees are lovely, but need to be controlled
In response to Mary Nelson’s letter in the May 17 edition of the
Coastline Pilot, “Laguna trees should be cherished,” -- she sound like
she would rather live in Carmel.
When was the last time she talked to anyone living in Carmel? There
are many people who have had their homes and other property damaged by
branches falling from trees that they are not allowed to trim.
They are scared about fires -- like we are. Was she here for the fires
of ’93 where are all those lovely trees burned to cinders along with
Those lovely trees have damaged our sewer systems, granted they were
old, but please let’s look at all the reasons.
I love trees -- I have six on my property but I keep them at bay. I
wish other people were as considerate. There are several of us who are
held in fiscal and emotion hostage because of the meanness of a neighbor.
They are using lovely trees as weapons and we can no longer look at the
magnificent ocean view that I and they once had.
Nelson must live where a view is not of importance. Please think about
those who value our town and want to be sure we don’t lose it to fires,
lose our views or lose our hillsides to poor planting techniques. Like
grass on the other side of the fence, that same can be said about trees.
Long-reaching effects of a riot
Following up on the aside concerning how Neil Purcell “busted Timothy
Leary for possession of marijuana,” it is interested to remember that
“narc.” Neil found the joint because he could gain access to Leary’s car,
which was parked illegally on Woodland Drive where he was visiting his
followers, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.
Woodland Drive in 1968 was where they rented their homes. It is a
unusual area because it is in the center of the original tract from which
the trailer park split off. Joe Thurston planned the “park” with six-foot
lanes and walks for access to the homes with designated parking lots
along Woodland and Milligan drives for each building site within the
area. Thus it is like a “park” because there are no streets and driveways
to most of the homes.
The hippies turned the area into a perpetual party place as they
didn’t leave to go to jobs. Trash cans were filled with Heinekin beer
bottles. Nothing but the best! Their children’s birthday parties must
have supported the toy stores of Laguna, and there were occasional
communal feasts to which other area residents were invited.
In 1968, three city council candidates -- Goldberg, Ostrander and Lorr
-- were elected with a platform to get rid of the hippies in Laguna. They
promised that they would enact a housing inspection to condemn the
hippies” homes and drive the drug culture out of town. The hippies’ saw
it as an attempt to allow the police access to their homes so that their
stashes could be found.
In any case, all hell broke loose among civil libertarians, including
myself, and the papers had a ball with such news and editorial material
when this council majority proceeded to create and implement laws that
which would accomplish the goal.
As a longtime resident in the area, I responded with outrage and wrote
a petition that essentially dealt with the fact that the method of their
action was unconstitutional. This was circulated throughout Laguna and
returned to me. The pages of the 500 signatures were taped together in a
scroll that was unrolled from the back of council chambers to the lectern
where I presented it during oral communications. The council voted to
stay the inspection for further study and legal guidance.
On the Fourth of July, the hippies and their friends from all over had
a great celebration on Woodland Drive. Finding myself in the center of
hundreds of young people shouting in jubilation, I decided this is not
where I wanted to stay and went home. Minutes later Laguna police, as
well as those from 26 other departments, showed up in full riot gear.
People fled into the hills, up the trails and all over, including the
home of the Brotherhood.
The results of this were that eventually there was a housing
inspection; the neighborhood was designated a “Housing Deficiency Area;"
the police busted enough people there that drug dealing was no longer
profitable, partly because of the expensive attorneys; the mayor of what
the Brotherhood called “Dodge City” became a born-again minister; the
sheriff disappeared; Purcell was promoted eventually to Chief.
With no sewers, and other problems, something had to be done.
Coincidentally, at the same time, the federal Department of Housing and
Urban Development came into existence essentially to provide low-income
housing but also to assist in other ways as well. One of these, public
works improvements, included senior housing, which was the first priority
in Laguna. When that failed, finally efforts were directed to Thurston
Park and eventually sewers, new water lines and a specific plan were
accomplished. Redevelopment was possible because the city purchased the
park as a tribute to Jim Dilley’s vision of a greenbelt.
As for me, 20 years later, my tiny house was remodeled to the studio
home of my dreams. Also, Jim Dilley’s greenbelt became a parking lot for
some of the neighborhood and also a small children’s playground.
So far, five new homes have been built and others are in the planning
All this happened because three councilmen vowed to drive the hippies’
out of Laguna, and there was a riot.