Updated – Public Safety Message from the Chief of Police

2020 Update Laguna Beach Police Crime report here

Updated Police Documents – Story from Stu News click here

Read the 59 page Laguna Beach PD Biennial Report 2017-2018 here

Date: August 17, 2018

Laguna Beach Residents:

Over the past few months there has been much concern expressed about crime and safety in our city. LBCHAT reached out to Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella and asked her to respond to the safety concerns.

Here is Chief Farinella’s response:

The City of Laguna Beach is an extremely safe city, and all police department employees have positively contributed to the reduction in crime. We are currently fully staffed at the sworn ranks, and with the support of the professional staff, it is these layered services that gives us the ability to function as if we were a much larger agency.

With 24 thousand residents and 6.5 million visitors, we are continuously challenged to meet and balance the needs of both the residential and visitor population. On a monthly basis, the leadership team meets to discuss crime and nuisance issues, and strategies to combat these issues, and how we can better engage with the community.

Here is some statistical data the police department maintains to monitor and analyze crime related activity.

Violent Crime Data here

Traffic Data* here *Laguna’s traffic accidents have actually decreased and the below chart shows that Coast Hwy (PCH) made up, on average, 22% or 13%, depending on where on Coast Hwy., and this is comparing three years of data. It may feel like more because PCH is used to get to where an accident may be and is the fastest way to get there. We use the data in the chart below to focus traffic enforcement and education.

Police Department August 15, 2018 SL Presentation here

Please direct questions on the data provided to: lfarinella@lagunabeachcity.net or call 949-497-0385.

___________________________________________________

LBCHAT supports Chief Farinella and our public safety staff. She takes an inclusive approach to leading and it is making a positive difference in our community. She is proud of our City, our public safety department staff and the progress made in connecting with residents and serving our extremely large tourism base.

Please share your thoughts with us? click here

As a resident, do you feel safe at home?
Do you feel safe while out and about in our City?
Do you think the City is providing adequate public safety services?
What areas do you feel could be improved?
Have you contacted the City with public safety concerns in 2018?
Do you have personal story to share?
Do you attend City Hall Meeting?
Are you aware that the City offers community educational and training classes for residents?

Guest Review: South Laguna Tourist Quagmire

Date: August 16, 2018
Subject: August 15, 2018 meeting on tourist Impacts in South Laguna.

Comments from South Laguna resident Michele Monda:

I attended the South Laguna Civic Association (SLCA) meeting on Wednesday night (August 15th) to hear an update on what the Laguna police, lifeguards and county parks staff are doing to make South Laguna safer. “I was delighted to hear that with the increased beach patrols, citations are up and crime and nuisance complaints are down.”
Questions among the 25 people who attended were related to what could be done about the lack of toilets, increased jay walking across PCH and the parking problem that has not been resolved. City staff said they would look into these issues. So, “I guess we still have a ways to go to address the South Laguna tourist quagmire.”

Michele Monda
South Laguna

View the LB Police Department August 15, 2018 Presentation. Click here

Please share your thoughts with us. Click here

Did you attend this meeting?
Do you live in South Laguna?
What specific issue(s) prompted you to attend the meeting?
Were you satisfied with the City progress report?
Were you satisfied with the OC Parks report?
Did you agree with the statistics provided in the reports?
Are there other issues you are concerned about that weren’t covered?
What issue have they addressed that you are most relieved or pleased about?
Have you personally contacted the City or County to report on an issue in 2018?
Anything else you would like to share?

Thank you! The more we speak up the more we improve our quality of life in South Laguna and our City.

Guest Article – Coastal Short-Term Rental Supporters Ignore Historic Nuisance Laws

Coastal city Short-Term Rental proponents ignore legally-binding land use
concepts, typically using meritless, fatally flawed arguments at hearings.
They’re good for business? Unfortunately, coastal trends since 2000
are “Commerce first, residents second.” By residents I mean those NOT
owning potential STR parcels.

Favoring commerce over 40+% of the population who rent year-round plus
percentages of full-time owners not wishing to acquire permits, that constitute
an incontestable majority, the commerce tail is wagging the communal quality
of life dog.

Beyond permit fees, there’s no proof that more STR would appreciably increase
general municipal revenue via boarders spending significant taxable amounts
at businesses. Often tenants are extended families and friends. They’ll be
saving money by cooking and drinking at the rental, not out.

They increase or assist public access to our beaches? A classic straw man
argument. Yes, a few hundred more people will be ensconced, but the Cal
Coastal Commission is dead wrong on this one. Otherwise, why allow more and
more parking meters, increasing rates plus climbing violation fees? Aren’t
limited time meters a form of infringement, inhibition or visitation disincentive?
Coastals increasingly allow increased intensification of use for restaurants and
bars without demanding increased onsite parking. Why doesn’t the CCC object
to that, these sites eat up yet more public parking, thus decreasing access,
don’t they?

STR’s homes are their castle, limitations constitute a de facto taking? That
ignores the basics of common civility, public and private nuisance laws traced
back to King Henry III:

“Private nuisance: An unreasonable, unwarranted invasion, where actions of
the defendant cause a substantial interference with another’s use/enjoyment
of their property. Public nuisance: The defendant’s actions materially affect
the reasonable comfort and convenience of life of the community.”

No one has the inalienable right to use their property to the diminishment of
their neighbor(s). Yes, some operators are vigilant and do not abuse the terms
and conditions. The nightmares abound, absentee owners are trying to
maximize income to offset, mitigate their taxes and maintenance. They bought
the parcel without STR rights: Enhancing private revenue models is NOT the
community’s problem.

The sales industry knows this, the Real Estate Disclosure Act of 1987 is explicit:
Seller MUST disclose any adverse condition that COULD affect the value. Listed
housing is theoretically forced to reveal the obtrusive potential if in proximity.
STR actually diminish property values, now THERE’S a fiscal infringement,
irregular taking including tort (litigation) exposure.

*Roger E. Bütow is a professional land use consultant and 46-year
resident of Laguna Beach

Legislative Action to Regain Local Control over Sober Living Facilities

The 27June 2017 City Council meeting has a consent item concerning Laguna Beach’s signing-on as a member of  the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition (WSSLHR) spearheaded by the Association of California Cities – Orange County (ACC-OC).  The Coalition supports federal and state legislation that seek to close loopholes in the FHA and ADA that have prevented localities from enforcing zoning and business-oversight laws in the case of Sober Living Facilities.  LagunaBeachCHAT supports the City joining the Coalition.  We have reproduced the majority of the invitation letter sent by the ACC-OC to the City Council, laying out their membership invitation and legislative ideas.


ACC-OC & Efforts

The ACC-OC is a non-profit organization that represents the interests of the 34 Orange County cities and the County of Orange. ACC-OC serves as a resource for elected officials and municipalities, focusing on three key initiatives: education that empowers, policy that is collaborative, and advocacy that is service-oriented. We bring together our city members, the business community, non-profits, special districts, and higher education to find fair solutions to challenges that affect our cities, like those related to sober living homes.

ACC-OC has been at the forefront of sober living home reform, working with local leaders, and state and federal legislators to sponsor bills, support reform measures, facilitate educational meetings and host televised town halls. We have a three-pronged approach to working with our communities on sober living home reform:

  • We support federal action: H.R. 472 sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa is a critical bill that would close loopholes that protect bad-acting sober living homes. If passed, the bill would amend the federal Fair Housing Act, empower cities to enforce current zoning laws, and limit the distance of facilities in their communities. The ACC-OC strongly supports this legislation and is working to build support across the state and beyond. ..
  • We are leading state action: ACC-OC has sponsored past statewide legislation and is currently working on Assembly Bill 572. There are just 16 state employees that enforce sober living facility registration for the entire state of California. All of whom are located in one region of the state. AB 572 would allow cities to fund an enforcement employee, locally, in partnership with the state and the County of Orange, to more quickly address noncompliant sober living facility complaints and misconduct…
  • We are informing the public: ACC-OC has hosted public town halls, media efforts and other public education initiatives that are important to ensuring that the public is aware of their rights, how to effect change and who to call with concerns. Communicating what cities can and cannot do regarding the actions taken against sober living residences is imperative for city residents to understand.

There is no denying the necessity of providing treatment options for those in our community struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. In 2016, fatal drug overdoses hit a 10-year high in Orange County, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called the national spike in drug abuse and overdose deaths a national epidemic. The issue of sober living home reform lies instead with those seizing on the lack of oversight to open sub-standard facilities, and the inability of cities to ensure that the facilities within their jurisdictions are functioning properly. SLHs have not only negatively affected cities and the composition of neighborhoods, but has also diminished the quality of living for those patients seeking treatment in residential settings.

Background

In California, there are two types of sober living residences, licensed facilities and unlicensed homes. Sober living facilities (SLF) must be licensed through California’s Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), when at least one of the following services is provided: detoxification, group sessions, individual sessions, educational sessions, or alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment planning. The more difficult and unregulated residency type is referred to as a sober living home (SLH). SLHs are considered single family homes and are treated as such, as long as they maintain a group living situation of six people or under and do not offer any treatment to patients through any of the listed methodologies. No matter how closely that the SLH in question operates as a business or whether they are suspected to be providing what would be considered licensed treatments, if the SLH is a group of six people or fewer choosing to live among one another in a home, neither the state or a local government have the authority over how that home is regulated or operated (emphasis LBChat). Additionally, the only entity with the ability to enforce any licensing standards and respond to complaints related to licensed facilities lies completely with DHCS.

The laws at the federal level have further propelled the proliferation of SLHs because of the protections that were enacted by the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which have been interpreted to extend those protections to SLHs and SLFs. These laws have prohibited the discrimination against those recovering from Alcohol or Other Drug abuse by classifying these individuals as disabled. Fair housing law requires states and cities to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled by not limiting their ability to reside in a home or enact laws that would treat those recovering from substance abuse any differently than another residence based on the residents who live within a single home. These federal laws have unintentionally left cities and states with little to no recourse to address the bad actors in the industry.

City Challenges

In California there are nearly 2000 licensed facilities and countless unlicensed homes – an alarming 15% of which are located in the County of Orange. As an example, there were 83 licensed drug and alcohol treatment facilities and 95 unlicensed sober living homes within the city of Costa Mesa alone. The City contains a population of over 112,000 people, which is less then 3.5% of the total countywide population; this has led to an oversaturation of treatment facilities and homes that exceed a reasonable need for services within a single jurisdiction. The FHA and ADA laws didn’t account for the determination of what would be considered a reasonable number of service providers. This is needed to maintain a healthy balance of treatment accessibility, while still preserving a residential environment.

The challenges presented by oversaturation has also led to the need for distancing requirements. When a neighborhood becomes absorbed with SLHs and SLFs a residential community turns into an institutionalized one – the very atmosphere that a residential recovery option is meant to avoid. Often, SLHs and SLFs operators will open residences directly next door to one another or even take an entire neighborhood block. This allows operators the ability to provide multiple service units, or to create institutionalized sized kitchens or living spaces for those living in the adjacent primary residences. This practice occurs on the same or different parcels of land to maintain the classification of an SLH or to expand SLF services. Cities cannot bar sober living residences to expand in this way because that would be considered discriminatory activity under FHA and ADA protections. The cities that do try to implement citywide ordinances requiring distancing requirements between multiple SLHs or SLFs have all faced time consuming and costly litigation – even in the few instances that the courts have ruled in favor of the city. The cities who have been successful in this remedy still face regulatory uncertainty, and the potential to be taken back to court on a case by case basis.

Due to the composition of SLFs housing six different tenants in what is normally meant for a single-family unit there are many behavioral complaints reported by community residents. These issues include: excessive smoking, an overabundance of trash and litter, loud noise, and a concentration of six or more vehicles for one household – leading to parking congestion. A handful of cities have done their best to regulate SLHs by enforcing local “nuisance” ordinances related to these behaviors, but that does not get to the core of the issue. Nuisance ordinances don’t help in reducing a neighborhood’s sober living residence proliferation, which multiplies these harmful externalities.

SLH Residents

In addition to the fact that many cities are unable to regulate and enforce rules over sober living homes, the residents seeking treatment in SLFs and SLHs have little to no recourse related to the quality of their treatment of living situation. SLFs often have documented and licensed treatment plans that residents agree to participating in before residing in those facilities, but SLHs are not required to provide or offer any type of contract, report outcomes, and are not held to any accountability standards. In both cases, cities cannot field any complaints of misconduct or licensure incompliance because of federal and state laws, even if reported by a client or resident.

The main concern related to the bad actors in the SLH industry is that these homes run primarily for profit due to the lack of oversight. In many scenarios, unlicensed SLHs charge their tenants unregulated rent prices as high as $75,000 a month with the promise of providing a safe and sober living environment for clients to rehabilitate. Many facilities have been able to take advantage of insurance covered treatment costs that have been subsidized by government programs, without any type of eligibility thresholds to receive these dollars. Those recovering from addiction have been compelled to seek treatment in places like California or in western states at higher rates than other parts of the country because of the attractiveness of licing in a welcoming climate, and operators’ promises of ‘resort-style’ recovery. An overwhelmning number of residents who live in western state sober living homes come from across the country, basing their move on operator advertisements and the draw of leaving behind negative influences and lifestyles in preparation for their treatment.

Unfortunately, these seeking treatment are often in desperate need, including families trying to find a safe environment for their young adult or teenage children. In 2011, 20 – year old Brandon Jacques’ family paid a Prescott, Arizona facility $14,500 a month to provide a sober living environment for their son. After he experienced an alcohol related incident in the Prescott home he was urged to move to a more ‘effective’ home in Newport Beach, California, by the owner and operator of these SLHs. When Brandon got to the Newport Beach facility he was moved to yet another home, in exchange for different profits traded between SLH operators. Within two months, Brandon died in the sober living home because he still had access to alcohol and was still practicing abusive behaviors. The only entity in the state of California with the authority to investigate misconduct didn’t intervene or revoke associated licenses connected to the operators and owners until after Brandon’s death.

Sadly, Brandon’s case, is not the only incident of this kind. While those circumstances are egregious, many residents experience other negative fallouts including, continued substance use, poor living conditions, physical abuse, and the most frequent, the potential for homelessness. If a resident is unable to continue paying the high premium of rent, their insurance has run out, or their treatment is deemed to be over; SLH residents end up on the street and have become a part of the growing homeless population. California cities working with homeless individuals have reported that this has been the case. Especially affecting many out of state former SLH residents. These residents had no other place to go, and in many cases, went back to abusing alcohol or other drugs.

Coalition

The previously described sober living home problems are not unique to Orange County cities or even the state of California, sober living home challenges transcend city, county and state lines. ACC-OC is working vigorously to find commonsense solutions to the currently broken system, but our voices would be much louder if they were heard together. We need our neighboring states and cities to join in our efforts to impact federal law. The sober living home laws passed at the state and local levels cannot truly have an impact until the risk of those laws being challenged or superseded at the national level have been diminished. The reforms introduced by H.R. 472 would be a welcome resource for cities across the country, and especially in our western region. We are inviting you to join the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition to help advocate for bills like H.R. 472 and other national regulatory and legislative efforts to reform sober living homes.

Please join our coalition by signing on to the attached document. This will allow us to include your city’s affiliation on Coalition approved joint letters, shared advocacy information, and general Coalition promotion and outreach. Should you have any questions about the Western States Sober Living Homes Reform Coalition or about ACC-OC, please contact Diana Coronado, ACC-OC’s Legislative Affairs Director, at (714) 953-1300 or at dcoronado@accoc.org. We hope to be a resouce to you, and we look forward to working with you and your City on this important mission!

Sincerely,

Heather Stratman

Chief Executive Officer

Association of California Cities – Orange County

Big money convinces Council to support continued mansionization of coastline

Last night’s (18April17) relatively brief city council meeting spent a lot of time on Public Hearing item #2, which was an appeal against the Design Review Board’s denial of a variance to tear-down & replace a ‘possibly’ historical bluff-top home in South Laguna (31987 Coast Highway).  As is so often the case with items that are brought to the City Council after having been ‘decided’ by a City board or committee, this was a De Novo hearing, meaning the evidence for both sides was to be heard as if nothing had been presented before…all new.

The home in question was never officially on the historic registry, but once plans were proposed by the new owner to raise the house & replace it with an enormous glass & steel modern structure, the city balked and claimed (somewhat ambiguously) that the home might be of historic significance.  Different studies by different ‘historic registry’ consultancies came to different conclusions.  What was not disputed, however, was that this home was the 1st to sit atop the ocean bluff near 1000 steps, and had become iconic to those who frequented the beaches in that area.

The new owner, Mr. Andy Dimitri (CEO of Eximware, a vendor in the cloud-based commodity trading software area) pulled out all the stops. He had a vast array of guns-for-hire (who all got 3 minutes to speak in favor of the project), in addition to his lead gun-fighter, Mr. Larry Nokes (local attorney and involved in all 3 agenda items for tonight’s meeting) who started things off with a 5 minute presentation. I counted 7 people (in addition to Mr. Dimitri himself) who spoke in favor of the appeal. Nokes, Mr. Tom Davis (Davis Law, who represented the seller’s estate in the sale to Mr. Dimitri), Brian Genette (architect), Structural engineer, historical preservationist, CEQA consultant, geological consultant, & 1 neighbor who would benefit from the new building’s setback, all spoke in favor of the appeal because:

a) existing structure is unstable & would have to be partially demolished to stabilize it anyway,

b) existing structure was never revealed to be historic and even so, it doesn’t merit that classification because its quite plain

In support of keeping the structure & denying the appeal were 2 neighbors, and Ann Christoph (representing So Laguna Civic Assoc) who each got 3 minutes to speak.  They were completely and totally outgunned, as you would imagine.

In the end, it was Mr. Dicterow, who famously ran his most recent re-election campaign on several themes, including “Keep the Charm and Character” of Laguna Beach, who boldly stated that he didn’t see clear evidence that the structure in question had any historic value. Hence he was inclined to grant the appeal (thus allowing for the destruction of the existing home).  Mr. Boyd agreed with him. Ultimately, Mr. Dicterow made the motion (Boyd seconding) which carried with a 3/2 vote in favor of granting the appeal and thus allowing the destruction.  Yes, Ms. Iseman voted to grant this appeal; we believe her vote was influenced by the fact that bringing the existing structure up to code would require inserting numerous 86′ deep caissons into the bluff top and partially demolishing the structure. The vote :

Ayes-Dicterow, Boyd, Iseman

Noes: Whalen, Zur Schmiede

The approval did not, however, approve the current proposed design of the vast new building.  That battle will continue.

I was struck how someone who tried to cast himself as a ‘keeper of the character and charm’ could lead the charge to bulldoze Laguna’s past. But in the end, Mr. Dicterow has always been a staunch supporter of ‘property rights’. He is very consistent with that philosophy.  But think about it;  believing in strong property rights is entirely incompatible with ‘keeping the character and charm’ of a place. That circle can’t be squared.

As usual, we must analyze the campaign donations:

Laguna Canyon Residents vs. Developers

Laguna Canyon Residents Take On Developers With No Help From City Council

A huge victory for Laguna Canyon residents who fought the city staff, planning commission and City Council to uphold our existing governing document of Laguna Canyon Area Annexation Area Specific Plan~

It should be noted this massive size & scale urban development project was approved by CIty Staff, Planning Commission and appealed to City Council who then voted to approve a large scale development project despite canyon resident objections!

Excerpts condensed version taken from the 21 page public court document.

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, COUNTY OF ORANGE
Civil Complex Center 751 W. Santa Ana Blvd Santa Ana, CA 92701
SHORT TITLE: Friends of the Canyon vs. California Coastal Commission
CLERK’S CERTIFICATE OF MAILING/ELECTRONIC SERVICE
CASE NUMBER:
30-2015-00776088-CU-PT-CJC

Pg 13
Significantly, the Coastal Commission, like the City Council before it, never determined whether it was proper to leave Laguna Canyon Creek off the MWDC Map. Just as the Coastal Commission determined the City Council’s finding on this point was inadequate, this court determines no substantial evidence supports the Coastal Commission’s identical finding.

Without question, Laguna Canyon Creek is a “Blue-line stream” and a “significant watercourse” in Laguna Canyon. Nothing in the Administrative Record suggests any Blue-line stream or significant watercourse in Laguna Canyon has ever been omitted from the MWDC Map.

Pg 15 The Coastal Commission, like the City Council before it, did not determine whether Laguna Canyon Creek was in fact on the map or omitted from the map. In any event, the Coastal Commission’s finding that Laguna Canyon Creek is “not identifiable” on the MWDC Map, besides being irrelevant as an incorrect standard, is not supported by substantial evidence.

Pg 17
2. Does substantial evidence support the finding that the Project is rural and small-scale? No.
The Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan Policies (LCAASP) identify a series of “goals” to “[p]reserve and enhance the rural character of the Laguna Canyon Properties area.” (AR 1099-1100.)

Policy 10 requires “that any development be of small-scale in order to maintain the rural character of the Canyon. The Project is not consistent with this policy.

This court takes judicial notice that there are 43,560 square feet in one acre. At 36,750 square feet, the Project site equals .84 of an acre. With 30 residential units, plus work space, plus retail space, plus a 47-stall parking garage, all on a parcel smaller than one acre, the Project does not qualify as small-scale or rural. It would be a stretch to label the Project suburban, but easy to label it urban.

It is of no moment the words “rural” and “small scale” are not defined in any document in the Administrative Record. The words “rural” and “small scale” are not generally considered terms of art; they have common meanings. In any event, the Administrative Record universally acknowledges the Project is neither rural nor small- scale. (See, e.g., AR 168, 171, 2979.)

Yes, rustic architecture and landscaping contribute to rural character, but aesthetics do not override the Project’s size, scale, and density. A project with a housing density of more than 30 units per acre simply does not qualify as rural or small- scale. There are 47 parking spaces for the 30 planned residential units, more than many suburban condo developments. It should also be remembered that although this is a two-story project, the housing elements are to be elevated at least five feet above grade, making the 36400t height more in line with a three-story building — again, not a rural structure.

There is no evidence, much less substantial evidence, to support the commission’s conclusion that the Project is rural and small-scale.

Pg 21 If there were nothing else, the violation of Public Resources Code section 30328 would entitle petitioner to a writ of mandate “requiring the commission to revoke its action and rehear the matter.” However, a rehearing would appear to be an idle act in this instance; the Commission’s finding that the Project is consistent with the applicable LCP is not supported by substantial evidence as to the setback and rural/small-scale issues. For the foregoing reasons, the petition for writ of administrative mandate is granted.