Good Slogans; Bad Policy

Oct 21, 2022

By Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen

The proponents of Measure Q certainly have catchy slogans — stop overdevelopment and put Laguna residents first. We agree with those sentiments. But catchy slogans do not make good policy and Measure Q is a decidedly bad land use policy for Laguna. We strongly urge you to vote NO on Measure Q.

Good policy measures are the product of a sound first draft followed by a robust public debate and then revisions to address public input, missing concepts, oversights, inconsistent provisions and unintended consequences of the initial draft. Unfortunately, Measure Q was drafted by a small group of individuals without input at public hearings or a chance for others with differing viewpoints to suggest revisions and improvements to it.

We each served four years on the Planning Commission and have a combined fourteen years on the City Council. Neither of us can recall a single City land use ordinance going through the process without revisions. So, it is not surprising that Measure Q, without the benefit of a robust public discussion and revisions to reflect those discussions, has flaws which are too numerous to ignore.

The key flaws are an overly broad definition of the projects that will have to go to a public vote, a failure to exempt City projects from its provisions, and the hurdles it creates for senior and affordable housing projects.

The first section of Measure Q, Section 25.060.01(a), states that its purpose is “to ensure that large new development projects do not exceed height, density and parking requirements to preserve the existing scale and atmosphere” along and adjacent to Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road. Had the proponents remained true to this stated and limited purpose, we would likely not be writing this column opposing Measure Q.

But rather than focusing on its stated purpose, Measure Q spreads its wings to encompass a broad range of projects with a six-part definition of “Major Development Project” which require a vote. Only part one of the definition focuses on the size of a project. The other five parts of the definition focus on a variety of other factors.

The most troubling part of the definition is part 6 which sweeps in any project that causes a “Cumulative Effect.” It is complicated but this provision will subject many small projects of the type that we want in Laguna to a vote. To calculate whether the Cumulative Effect provision is triggered, you aggregate over an 8 year period all projects over 3,000 sq. ft. of gross floor area for which a building permit was issued or for which an application was submitted, unless the permit or the review process has been terminated. Once the Cumulative Effect provision is triggered, all projects within the affected area (a half-mile radius) will have to go to a vote unless they meet the definition of the term “Minor Modification of a Major Development Project,” which most will not. If Measure Q is approved, the Cumulative Effect provision will immediately take effect in North Laguna and downtown, subjecting small projects to public votes.

Another troubling provision of Measure Q is its failure to exempt City public safety projects from its provisions. Why would it exempt “a public or private K-12 school, hospital, museum, or house of worship” of any size but not a City public safety project? We can’t think of a good reason.

Please join us in voting NO on Measure Q and urge your friends to do the same. We don’t need it to maintain Laguna’s character. In fact, it will undermine it.

By Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen

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