Mailbag: Village Entrance the No. 1 council priority

In its recent annual 2013 retreat, the entire City Council voted to make approving a Village Entrance concept its No. 1 priority in 2013.

As many know, I have been working for years to try to carry out the Village Entrance vision that was created by the Village Entrance Task Force more than 18 years ago. As a reminder of what that vision was, I include it in this letter.

The vision statement reads: "Laguna Beach's Village Entrance is a beautiful, pedestrian-oriented area that links the art festival activity areas to the downtown village and Main Beach. At the entrance to the City's downtown there is a welcoming 'statement' to the village central business area and the activities of the art festivals. The surface parking and flood control channel have been replaced or covered with a public area that has a pedestrian walkway that meanders through an undulating park-like landscape of indigenous trees and flowers and includes interesting art 'placement' sculptures and creative water features. There are both formal and informal seating accommodations along the pathway. At night, a subdued and visually pleasing light-scape program enhances this public area and pathway. The area invites one to take a relaxing stroll to and from the art festivals, plays, concerts, community events and the downtown's stores and restaurants, thus enhancing and extending pedestrian activity in the downtown area. Along the way, visitor information kiosks provide information about these activities and other community special events held on or near the Civic Arts District. The surface parking has been replaced with a consolidated parking structure that has been visually integrated into an area next to City Hall. The parking structure is well landscaped and designed so that it does not have an obtrusive feel to the pedestrian components of the Village Entrance area or the downtown. The Village Entrance is yet another jewel for Laguna Beach residents and visitors to be proud of and enjoy!"

I look forward to honoring all those who worked so hard toward this vision — not only 18 years ago, but decades before that — to finally bring to fruition what will be a beautiful entryway to our city. A vision that will help to increase vitality in our Downtown/Civic Arts District — and that addresses many of our parking, traffic and circulation issues, the No. 1 concern in a recent city study of our residents.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson

Laguna Beach


DRB experience is one that will be cherished

It is true. I am voluntarily retiring from Design Review Board.

Jan. 24 was my last Design Review Board meeting after serving 16 years on the board. That's a long time but a time well spent for a good cause. Why did I do it? The answer is simple: I love Laguna Beach, it's charm and uniqueness.

My primary reason to apply for and serve on the Design Review Board was my wish to assist applicants to go through the design review process as easy and quickly as possible. I had no idea that this decision would turn into a 16 year career.

Some years ago during an interview, I was asked why I wanted to be appointed to the DRB and my answer was that "I wanted to help people build their dream house without creating a nightmare for their neighbors." That's pretty much the whole process in a nutshell, but it wasn't always as easy as it may sound.

I leave the board with mixed feelings. I am happy to have more time to spend with my family but also a little sad because I know I will miss all of you. It has been a rewarding experience. I met many wonderful people. I learned a lot and saw many changes happen.

I also leave with a sense of accomplishment. When I first sat up here 16 years ago, the DRB process was a lot different than it is today. It was much less predictable and quite contentious at times.

Over the years, the DRB process has been significantly improved. The efforts of many dedicated people made the changes possible.

However, the real breakthrough started in 2004 when then-Mayor Cheryl Kinsman requested that a task force should evaluate the DRB process and find a way to make it more predictable and less contentious, and report back to the City Council with recommendations. Then-council members Steve Dicterow, Wayne Baglin, Toni Iseman and Elizabeth Pearson agreed with her and appointed Matt Lawson, Gene Gratz, Leslie LeBon, Marion Jacobs, and Lance Polster, together with a Planning Commissioner — Robert Zur Schmiede — and a DRB member, me, to the "Design Review Task Force."

We created a report with recommendations of how to improve the DRB process. In January 2006, the task force presented its recommendations to the City Council and they were unanimously adopted.

I wish to thank the City Council for accepting and adopting the task force's recommendations.

Today, applicants, architects, designer, neighbors and board members enjoy the benefit of a revised DRB process, a process that is still a work in progress.

Last but not least, I wish to thank the organizers of my retirement party — Robin Zur Schmiede, Caren Liuzzi, Michael Wilkes, Ken Sadler, Matt and Mary Lawson and Monika Simpson — for a great party.

Among the many people who came to see me off was Mayor Kelly Boyd, who presented me with a proclamation honoring my 16 years on the board present and former City Council members Iseman, Dicterow, Egly, Kinsman and Rollinger, members from the Chamber of Commerce, architects, designers and friends.

Thank you one and all from the bottom of my heart for a kindness. I really wanted to thank everyone right there at the party, but I was afraid that I might lose my composure and choke up.

I shall cherish always.

Ilse Lenschow

Laguna Beach

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