Economic development plan approved

A yearlong effort that culminated in a proposed plan to nurture businesses in Laguna Beach was approved June 4 by the City Council.

The Economic Development Action Plan was developed under the guidance of a City Council subcommittee working with officials of the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a doable, practical plan," said Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson, who presented the plan to the council. "Some of the strategies are already underway, but we wanted to make sure the council approved the recommendations."

Besides adoption of the plan, four other recommendations were approved, all directed to City Manager John Pietig to get the plan in motion.

•Request the chamber to submit a list of suggested revisions to the city code related to the permitting and development process by Jan. 31 for council consideration.

•Establish a team consisting of the mayor, the city manager and the chamber executive director or their designees that will visit a minimum of two businesses a month to learn about them and the challenges and opportunities the owners face.

•Work with chamber and bureau representatives to develop special-event guidelines for council review.

•Establish a team of city staff members to meet with owners of prime commercial properties to discuss their status and opportunities to enhance business.

Johnson said she and Pietig had already spoken to Hotel Laguna owner Georgia Anderson, who leases the prime South Coast Highway real estate on which the hotel stands.

Councilman Steve Dicterow said the longtime land owner recently died and the new ownership is not clear, nor are the terms of the lease.

Development of a meaningful partnership among the city, the chamber, the bureau and local businesses began when the council created the Business Assistance Task Force in 2009. The task force comprised two planning commissioners and two members from each of the business-oriented organizations.

Their recommendations resulted in a council subcommittee that included Mayor Pro-tem (then-Councilwoman) Elizabeth Pearson, Councilwoman Toni Iseman and planning commissioners Linda Dietrich and Anne Johnson, who were directed to ensure implementation of task force recommendations that aimed to help existing businesses and attract new ones to town.

The committee developed Open for Business, a program originated by Anne Johnson and supported by the Planning Commission that promotes a business-friendly atmosphere and provides information to potential applicants for permits to operate.

"I'd like to give a plug here for the Open for Business program," said Pearson on Tuesday. "It has been one of the most successful city programs."

Implementation of the Economic Development Action Plan is expected to be accomplished within the next two years.

A draft of the action plan was submitted for review to the subcommittee, which recommended council approval.

Visitors Bureau officials Judy Bijlani and Karyn Philippsen could not attend the hearing but submitted a letter of support for the plan.

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