Opinion: Developers feel threatened by direct democracy

By Randy Lewis
It was only a matter of time before property developers and pro-development council and staff members began to express their nervousness over the resident-focused measure that would offer increased integrity protection architecture and character of our city. It is obvious that this time has come. And, with that, a sense of panic that worries voters may well reign in the November election and vote to support the Laguna Residents First initiative. Their response: spreading misinformation, throwing mud, calling people by name, slandering their personalities, and belittling and belittling their past contributions on behalf of our community.

For years, the writing has been on the wall about the plans of big-budget real estate developers and commercial landlords to reshape the character of our city by proposing construction projects on a scale never considered or considered before. In response to this very real peril, a group of grassroots volunteers gathered the signatures needed to put an initiative on the November ballot that would give residents a voice in determining our city’s future. Borrowing from Newport Beach’s court-upheld “Greenlight” initiative as well as legislation passed by other communities facing similar development pressures, the Laguna Residents First movement was born.

The Laguna Residents First initiative is not a tumultuous no-growth proposal. Rather, it is a human-sized growth initiative promoting a path to “responsible, thoughtful and sustainable evolution of our commercial districts”. It is important to note that single-family residential projects or residential projects of nine units or less would be exempt from the limits of this initiative. Similarly, projects for schools, hospitals, museums or public or private places of worship in K-12 would be exempt. The scope and intent of this initiative is limited. Its purpose is limited to the contribution of citizens to proposed large-scale development projects.

The Laguna Residents First initiative would trigger a public vote on projects that exceed 22,000 square feet, increase traffic by 200 or more additional daily trips and fail to meet on-site parking requirements. Not really radical stuff.

As expected, the developers and their political allies say the Laguna Residents First initiative is unnecessary. They say this is another example of bureaucratic overreach. They argue that existing building codes are sufficient to protect our community from overdevelopment. They ask that we trust them.

The fact is that they are afraid. They worry that residents won’t share their grand plans and majestic vision for our city. They fear that residents will not agree to demolish buildings and replace them with new, taller and denser commercial spaces. They are threatened by the idea of ​​citizen participation and the concept of direct democracy.

Laguna Beach is widely recognized as the crown jewel of Orange County. We are lucky to live in such a place and call it home. The Laguna Residents First ballot initiative would give voters the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to intense, large-scale development projects that have the potential to reshape the town’s historic look and character.

The developers and their enablers and influencers tell us that we needn’t worry – that this brouhaha is nothing more than “a storm in a teapot”. If so, then what is there to fear? All.

Randy is a 50-year Laguna Beach resident and Associate Executive Dean of the UC Irvine Student Retreat.

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