RE: Laguna Residents First Ballot Initiative. Elizabeth Pearson, Former Mayor and City Councilmember and Planning Commissioner - Letter to the Editor

March 1, 2022

To the Editor:


As a former 12-year Councilmember and 6+ year Planning Commissioner, I’d like to respond to those arguing for a new Initiative that allows residents to weigh in, through a vote, on new businesses/projects near or on Laguna Canyon Road and Coast Highway, I’d like to provide the following two considerations:

  1. We already have a process to weigh in -- through planning commission and City Council hearings. I offer the following to demonstrate that our existing system works, and why the alternative is a bad idea:

The Montage Project

The approval of the Montage. The Planning Commission (on which I then participated) spent 2+ years reviewing in minute detail, the Local Coastal Plan and Environmental Impact Report -- as well as working in concert with the Design Review Board -- to review (over and over again) the design, including the landscaping and view corridors. Was there input at every step? Yes. EVERY SINGLE STEP. Once the Planning Commission approved the project and passed it along to the City Council, were residents allowed to weigh in? Yes, time and time again. Did the naysayers fight it at the Coastal Commission? Of course, en masse. Ultimately the plan was approved by the City and Coastal Commission. And it was built as the Planning Commission and City Council approved it. Is it a high rise? No. Does it “fit in” to all of our visions of being smaller-scale and compatible with the environment? Does it have a park for the public? Are residents allowed to access the beach now, where they weren’t before? Our system worked, and some of it thanks to the input of some of the naysayers along the way, through the system we already have in place.

Many of the people now involved with this new Initiative wanted to stop the creation of the Montage after it was approved, so they got enough signatures to put it to the project on the ballot – causing a referendum to go in front of the voters. This town was torn in two. It was viscous and divisive … and negative. The nay-sayers mailed out , citywide, over-sized post cards depicting Miami Beach with their high hotel towers saying that this was what Laguna was going to look like if the Montage moved forward. The proponents of the new Montage, the one that was built as approved, barely won that election.

I believe that if this new Initiative were to pass, we will be living in the negative environment we lived in during the Montage fight -- over and over again. Aren’t we trying to live in a more peaceful environment and working to avoid that kind of vitriolic local society?

  1. Other cities have used this type of initiative to control their city’s projects – is a claim the proponents of the Initiative make. I ask you: Have you taken a look at those cities? Are they as charming as ours? Do they have buildings over 36’ (our height law)? Do they have illuminated signs and/or billboards? Do they look charming and low-scale, or simply “urban” or “too commercial”? The reason why we “look and feel” different is because our codes have been written to maintain the charming nature of our commercial areas, AND THEY WORK. Our existing codes already protect our town … we don’t have to “fix them”. We were ahead of everybody else by developing codes since 1971 to ensure that our unique “look and feel” were maintained. And yes, some of the Initiative’s proponents had input into those codes along the way … a good thing.

In conclusion, let’s keep our town peaceful and charming - let’s not open the flood gates to repeated viciousness and divisiveness such as was experienced with the Montage referendum. That kind of environment is not who we are, nor why we moved here. Vote “no” on the Laguna Residents First ballot initiative.

Elizabeth Pearson

Former Mayor and City Councilmember and Planning Commissioner

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