Commission OKs updated city land use element

Years of preparations and months of negotiations by the staffs of Laguna Beach and the California Coastal Commission paid off Wednesday when the commission approved the city's updated land use element.

The land use element is the centerpiece of the city's general plan, a blueprint for the physical development of the city. The element is one of the major tools used to determine how the city will look and function in upcoming years, according to city staff.

The update has been in the works for about five years.

"After about an hour of discussion, the commission unanimously approved the land use element with some modifications," said City Manager John Pietig. "The modifications were known and are expected to be accepted by the council."

Laguna was represented at the meeting by former commission member Councilwoman Toni Iseman, Community Development Director John Montgomery and Pietig.

"I came in late in the process," Pietig said. "Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours have been spent on this project. A lot of credit goes to Norn Grossman and Linda Dietrich, the Planning Commission subcommittee chairs and the city staff."

The City Council must now adopt the certified plan, which includes commission staff modifications, for it to go into effect.

Grossman and Dietrich determined after reviewing commission modifications that most of them strengthen the document and do not conflict with the intent of the element as approved by the council in 2009. Staff concurred.

The version originally submitted by the city to the Coastal Commission staff in September 2010 was the result of 37 workshops and Planning Commission meetings.

City and commission staffs, which have not always had the most amicable relations, worked together on compromises for about three months and the commission staff recommended the approval.

"I am so glad John [Pietig] and our staff took the initiative to resolve issues before the meeting," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger.

Among those issues was a clarification of the city's policy to preserve and encourage an increase in affordable motel and hotel rooms; to do this, they amended the municipal code to define low-, moderate- and high-cost overnight accommodations to ensure affordable accommodations and maintain an inventory of the rooms. Where no affordable rooms are included in a project, the commission required the imposition of in-lieu fees.

The city's prohibition on time shares and condominium hotels with fractional ownership will continue until the commission adopts recommended standards in the coastal zone, for which no timetable has been set.

City staff was able to negotiate an exception to a commission policy that all parking-rate increases require a coastal development permit. The city will be allowed to raise rates up to $2 an hour, without the permit. Permits will be required for the development of peripheral parking the city promotes to reduce the number of vehicle trips to beaches and downtown.

Additional modifications included the requirement of bike racks at new non-residential development and the design and siting of all large developments to reduce vehicle use and promote transit ridership.

The city's land use element contains direction to preserve sensitive resources, minimize landform alterations and to site and design projects in order to avoid hazards. The commission added taking action to ensure consideration of coastal hazards — flooding, erosion, sea level rise — in reviewing projects.

Standards for landslide safety also were included. Provisions were added to allow the maintenance and repair of legal nonconforming blufftop structures. If 50% or more is to be remodeled, the work is to be considered new development, and the pre-existing structure must be brought into conformity.

The city's version of the land use element allows the use of alternative means and methods of fuel modification on sensitive habitat areas. Commission staff added a modification to avoid fuel management impacts by appropriate siting and size reduction of structures and the use of fire-retardant design and materials.

No new division of land will be permitted that requires new fuel modifications or fuel breaks in sensitive habitat.

Finally, commission staff incorporated provisions for the development of segments of the California Coastal Trail through Laguna.

The updated land use element and commission staff comments are more than 200 pages long. Anyone who wants to read the full text can find it at or in the City Clerk's office.

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