The Laguna Beach Community/Senior Center, under construction on Third Street.
WHAT’S BEHIND IT:
Laguna Beach Seniors Inc. lobbied for a center of their own to replace the cramped and impractical Veterans Memorial Building on Legion Street, which they shared with the city’s Recreation Department.
They wanted out of the dreary lunch room and into a building with better facilities for their activities without conflict with recreation classes and better access — preferably an elevator for those who found it difficult to climb stairs. They pledged to raise the money, eventually capped at $2.5 million, to build a center, and sought the city’s help.
The group got most of what it wanted.
The city bought parcels on Third Street from private owners that now comprise the site for the joint centers, at a total cost of $3.7 million. Controversy erupted over the parcels brokered by sitting Councilman Wayne Baglin, who accepted a commission on the deal. He was tried in the Orange County Superior Court for profiting from a contract with the city while an elected official and found not guilty.
But that didn’t end the controversy.
The city’s decision to incorporate a community center on the site didn’t sit well with some of the seniors but was accepted as the price that had to be paid to get what they wanted.
Longtime senior center advocate Marthann Newton never was happy with the site but accepted it because she believed a 13,000 square foot center could be built there for seniors use only.
However, neighborhood objections cut down the size.
Some dissidents wanted the project moved to the Village Entrance — or any place other than Third Street — to save the neighborhood of cottages that provided shelter for low income renters. One of the cottages was relocated to Orange and three are sitting in Laguna Canyon, awaiting takers, just for the cost of moving.
Construction costs are estimated at $15 million.
Work on the site has been phased to limit impacts on summertime traffic.
And in May, the council rejected a proposed $1-a-year lease with the Seniors group, as recommended by City Manager Ken Frank.
Mayor Pro Tem Jane Egly described the lease as just too vague, with ill-defined terms — and council members Kelly Boyd and Elizabeth Schneider wanted more specifics on the division of parking spaces between the community and senior centers and hours of use. Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman, who is barred by state law from voting on the project because she owns property within the noticing area, spoke against the lease as a resident.
“As an accountant, I couldn’t stand it,” Kinsman said. “This will just lead to hostility later on.”
In June, the council approved settlement of a lawsuit brought by a site neighbor that accused the city of violating California Environmental Quality Act requirements in its approval of the centers, which the city disputed.
The council also recently approved material and design changes to improve the building’s sustainability.
“Every green improvement will pay off very soon,” Mayor Toni Iseman said. “It is important for [the city] to model behavior. We can’t ask the people in our community to be energy-conscious if we are not.
The lease is scheduled to be presented again to the council at the Sept. 18 meeting.
— By Barbara Diamond