Opinion: Stuck in traffic? Ballot initiative would exacerbate the problem

May 20, 2022

By Joe Hanauer

During last week’s 80-degree Saturday I was stuck in a long line of traffic. You may have been as well.

As I sat there, I broke out laughing as I reflected on an Indy guest column written a few weeks ago entitled “Another Powerful Argument for the Ballot Initiative”. The writer, a smart and I believe well-meaning guy, described the crisis the City will face someday due to only three roads out of town. Of course, he’s correct.

But then he went on to posit, (and here’s the laughable part), that a major contributor to the crisis when it occurs will be out of towners who come here to shop and dine. He then concludes there needs to be a limit to adding more commercial space in Laguna. It was laughable because I’m sure my wife Jane and her bookstore along with our town’s struggling retailers would love to have just one percent of the drivers going through town be among their shoppers. They’re not. The out of towners are here to be by the sea and the beaches. So long as global warming hasn’t destroyed these gifts, there will continue to be visitors. It’s not the stores and restaurants that pull them here.

But that’s not all that’s laughable if it weren’t so serious.

The Laguna Residents First (LRF) ballot initiative is the very action that would exacerbate the problem not the cure.

Think about it.

The ballot initiative actually prohibits the construction of new parking facilities to keep cars out of our neighborhoods and could prohibit construction of fire stations or other emergency facilities without first going on a public ballot. The very facilities we would need to reduce the impacts of a crisis not only would be delayed if the LRF ballot initiative becomes law but through clever advertising, slogans and NIMBY interests, needed public facilities may never get sufficient public votes. After thorough vetting by the Planning Commission and City Council and with public input, to then be delayed or maybe vetoed due to the requirement of a public vote would be a terrible consequence of the ballot initiative.

If you haven’t already been solicited for financial support for the LRF ballot initiative, you soon will be. Unfortunately, as is the case with most initiatives in California’s proposition process there will be misunderstandings, misstatements and exaggerations about what the initiative is intended to accomplish. As an example, the guest column I reference describes the LRF initiative as focused on “large scale commercial development”. Is the development of 10 apartments on a 7,501 square foot lot, large scale commercial development? How about merging two residential lots that would total 76 by 100 feet, or converting a small store to a restaurant? All of these could require a public vote after years of undergoing Laguna’s lengthy vetting process.

The fact the LRF initiative addresses worries about Laguna losing the charm that brought us here is a good thing. The fact it’s flawed because it goes way too far beyond addressing large scale commercial development is the problem. I hear supporters now acknowledge it goes well beyond what’s workable and they say, well, we can fix it later. Not the case. If approved by voters in November it will take another ballot initiative in another year to correct its problems and if those corrections aren’t approved by voters, the City will be in limbo for years.

The right initiative would certainly get my support but not this one.

What then does one do if one is worried about over development? Let’s see what the City comes up with over the next several weeks to address concerns about legitimate over development, not the damaging unintended consequences that have surfaced with the LRF initiative.

Editor’s Note: Joe is the owner of multiple Laguna Beach commercial properties, including the Old Pottery Place.

More News & Views