Fire Risks and Undergrounding – Guest Article

“What I find most interesting is the tacit assumption that urban utility lines constitute high risk. Yes, there is risk of fire from utility lines, but the proponents do not quantify the risk for urban lines; rather, they talk about wildfires and car accidents without any hard numbers or facts. The Orange County Emergency Management Plan says that the risk of urban fire, caused by all sources, is about the same as an oil spill, train accident, or aircraft crash. The city has not cited any statistics of cars hitting poles. Nor will removing poles reduce accidents — cars will hit what was behind the poles — in some cases houses. The city has not done a cost/benefit analysis of risk vs. cost.

There is another assumption that is simply false: a fire caused by a downed pole in an urban area seldom spreads, as did the fire in North Laguna or Sonoma recently — the fires began in the dry chaparal. Wildfires start in the chaparal and head toward cities, not from them. Undergrounding the utilities in the city does nothing to reduce the risk of wildfires in the chaparal, nor does it put the high voltage, cross-country lines underground.

None of this information is new. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has been studying power line safety for over 100 years, and there are thousands of scientific papers published on the subject, but who has time to look up facts? We’ve seen time and again that science does not enter into City Council decisions, only tax and spend. Laguna Beach is not the first city to have utility poles — most cities have them. The truth be known, this initiative is about taxing and spending tens of millions for aesthetics and over-priced ocean views, not public safety. Under State law the city’s highest priority is safety, but it goes begging.

The Orange County Emergency Management Plan says that flood/storms, hazardous materials, earthquakes, epidemics, and mudslide/landslide are all higher and more frequent risks in Laguna Beach, yet the Council makes little-to-no effort for flood protection or mudslides, for which Laguna Beach regularly makes the national news. How quickly we forget the flooding, houses falling down hills, and deaths that have happened from mudslides. The slide in Montecito that killed dozens was only a few weeks ago.

As for exit routes, Laguna Canyon has a much higher risk from flooding and slides than from downed poles. Remember how many days it was impassible after the last major flood, as was PCH in South Laguna? The flooding is regular and not rare. Unfortunately, flood control is not chic or trendy or ever mentioned in real estate ads, i.e., 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, great view, and flood control. It is the last item that our City Council is, by law, responsible for, not great views.”

Lightning Fast Action By Public Works

Public Works can really get its act together when properly motivated. At last week’s (11July17) Council meeting, there was a pulled consent calendar item relating to a resolution establishing two loading zone parking spaces located on Laguna Avenue.

Lo and behold, while walking my pooches by that spot yesterday (17July17), the loading zone spaces have already been created, with the curb properly painted to indicate the hours that the loading zone restriction is in force. I’m not sure when the changes were made, but certainly within 4 working days. Between the hours of 18:00 to 03:00, the metered spaces become un-metered, 3-minute loading zone spaces to accommodate cars/taxi’s/Uber’s dropping or picking-up passengers. There were already 2 “loading zone” spaces, so together with the 2 new ones, there are 4.

Here’s the language of the pulled consent item:

Moved by Councilmember Zur Schmiede seconded by Councilmember Whalen and carried unanimously 5/0 to:

Adopt Resolution No.17.044 entitled “A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA, ESTABLISHING TWO LOADING ZONE PARKING SPACES LOCATED ON LAGUNA AVENUE” on the south side of Laguna Avenue between South Coast Highway and Ramona Avenue;

* amend the hours of the two spaces already established as passenger loading and the two new spaces (total of 4 spaces) from 6:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.;

* direct staff to amend the Ordinance that was approved to list the hours of the (4) passenger loading spaces from 6:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.;

* and modify the signage to reflect “tow away zone.”

Such quick action must be the result of a serious public-safety issue or a big hue & cry from the public.

Oh, wait. The loading zone changes were requested by none other than Sam Goldstein, restaurateur/saloon-keep of the Skyloft and owner of the Heisler Building (through his Radford Ventures LLC), where the Skyloft is located. Let’s look at some reportable campaign donation data for recent city elections:

Year Candidate Reportable Donation Amt Total Reportable Donation
2014 Zur Schmiede $360 (Sam & Spouse) $720.00
2016 Whalen $240 (Sam & Spouse) $480.00
2016 Dicterow $240 (Sam & Spouse) $480.00

How long have South Laguna residents been waiting for <fill-in-the-blank>? Perhaps over the years South Laguna activists have just not tried hard enough to exercise their influence and make their case to the Council. Or perhaps nature/tree-lovers might do well to fear for the fate of the ficus trees in Heisler Park which block the rooftop ocean views from Sam’s place.

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.

Civil Complex Center 751 W. Santa Ana Blvd Santa Ana, CA 92701
SHORT TITLE: Friends of the Canyon vs. California Coastal Commission

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.

Councilmembers’ Campaign Donations – How much did each receive from Development Interests

Using the definition of “Development Interests” provided in the article analyzing reportable donations to the 2016 City Council elections (i.e., Developers, Construction firms, Architects, Landscape architects, Realtors & brokers, Property Management and spouses) , LagunaBeachCHAT analyzed the form460 declarations for all of our current City Council (covering each councilperson’s most recent election campaign). The picture that emerges is that, save for Councilperson Iseman, development interests contribute the LARGEST SHARE of reportable (i.e., those > $100) campaign donations.

Click here for searchable spreadsheets of donors:

2014 Election

2016 Election

While “development interests” certainly are entitled to engage in the political process and are allowed to use their money to endorse candidates that they favor, we find it worrisome that 4 of our 5 City Council members are taking such a large amount of money from this special interest group. We would encourage our readers to consider every development-related vote cast by councilpersons Dicterow, Whalen, Zur Schmiede and Boyd in light of the significant money that each has taken from this special interest group. We would furthermore encourage all councilpersons to pledge to limit their acceptance of ‘development interest’ campaign donations in the future.

LagunaBeachCHAT also analyzed the non-reportable (i.e. < $100) campaign donations each current City Councilperson received in their most recent election campaign. These donations are reported as a ‘lump sum’, with no individual donor names.  We believe that these smaller donations reflect broader ‘grass-roots’ support for each candidate and are a healthier way for candidates to fund their campaigns and for Laguna Beach residents to show support for candidates of their choice.  We would encourage future City Council candidates to pledge a $100 campaign donation limit, as a way to ensure that more voices get to contribute to the political discussion in Laguna Beach, and so that commercial/development interests cannot sway the process with their checkbooks.

Campaign 2016 – City Organization Forums Avoid Substantive Questions

Voters relied on Laguna Beach’s leading civic organizations to hold public forums to provide information on the 2016 City Council candidates’ views, priorities and vision. After attending a majority of the forums, LagunaBeachCHAT came away questioning the value of this entire process and what appeared to be forums held for narrow and organization-exclusive purposes. Incumbents were rarely (if ever) asked to defend their voting records from the previous years.  Too little was done to try to match past experience/accomplishments with current promises.

Are the civic organizations too polite to ask tough questions about voting records?  Are they too focused on only their pet issues to care about the bigger picture?  This writer found that overall, the forums had very little value, with some asking downright embarrassing questions.  An exception to the mediocrity was the 1st forum held by the Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association; an attendee could have come away from that forum with a good idea about each candidate’s views on taxation, budgeting, prudent use of surpluses, etc.  However, it would have been very useful if the incumbents’ answers were checked against past votes, as a means of “keeping ’em honest”.

A primary mission of LagunaBeachCHAT is to provide voters with the DATA to easily determine how their elected officials have acted in the past.  If we are successful, come 2018, it will be easy to determine how an incumbent voted, took donations, discussed, etc. during their time on the City Council, and to ask them direct questions.  No more fluffy, softball questions, no more “tell ’em what they want to hear” answers.  Click below to see a transcript of the questions asked at 5 of the 8 public forums.

2016LB City Council Forum Questions

What do you think?  If you attended the forums below, please share your experience with us and rank these organizations on value to the voter.  Rank 1-5:  (5 being the most valuable and informative forums)

8 Organizations held Candidate Forums 2016:
Laguna Beach Taxpayers Association
Arts Alliance
South Laguna Civic Association (members endorsed Candidate Verna Rollinger)
LB Chamber of Commerce
Village Laguna (ex-board member V. Rollinger running for CC & funded/endorsed by same)
LB Board of Realtors/Laguna Beach Indy
Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization (CANDO)
KX93.5 (city funded radio station)

Listen to Mayor Steven Dicterow blame Riverside residents for our unmanaged tourist problems at City Council Chambers during one of the forums.