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: