Laguna Beach City

FACT CHECK: Laguna Beach Downtown Specific Plan

FACT CHECK: Laguna Beach Downtown Specific Plan

FACT CHECK: Laguna Beach Downtown Specific Plan

Laguna Beach – The City of Laguna Beach is updating its Downtown Specific Plan (DSP), a planning document that serves to guide growth, design, and development standards in Downtown Laguna Beach. Its primary objective is to preserve and enhance the unique character of the downtown, identify priorities for public improvements and provide a clear understanding of the vision that the community has set for the future of Downtown Laguna Beach. On Wednesday, November 20, 2019, the Laguna Beach Planning Commission voted to recommend the City Council approve the updated Downtown Specific Plan at an upcoming meeting.

Q: Do the revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan eliminate the parking requirement for businesses in the Downtown area?

A: No. To simplify the parking requirement for office, retail, and food services in the Downtown area and facilitate shared parking during peak and non-peak operating hours, the updated DSP actually creates a new parking requirement of three (3) spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for non-residential uses. This requirement is based on recommendations from a Parking Actual Demand Study that found the overall actual built supply of parking spaces located within the DSP area exceeds the overall actual demand. The parking ratio based on actual demand ranged from 2.08 to 2.92 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area. Uses that generate a high demand for parking, such as recreational uses, cultural and educational uses, and visitor accommodations, are still required to provide off-street parking pursuant to the City’s Municipal Code Chapter 25.52 on Parking Requirements.

Additionally, on-going data collection and evaluation of parking in the Downtown will allow the City to monitor and ensure that future land use issues that may result from the revised parking requirement (such as too many restaurants) do not occur. Any foreseeable issues that could result from the parking requirement will be addressed through a saturation analysis during the associated land use change and Conditional Use Permit process.

Q: Is it true there’s a “loophole” in the new Downtown Specific Plan called a Corporate Development Agreement that allows developers to create an “Overlay Zone,” which exempts them from all General Plan guidelines and zoning regulations?

A: No. An Overlay Zone is actually a zoning district established to require stricter standards than those of the underlying base zoning district. A Corporate Development Agreement is a voluntary agreement between the City and a developer and/or property owner that describes the obligations of both parties. A Development Agreement does not function as an Overlay Zone and it cannot waive or supersede Code regulations. A Development Agreement and an Overlay Zone are completely different and unrelated and both require approval at public meetings.

Q: Can property developers “negotiate” variances with the City as long as the project results in some kind of public benefit?

A: No. Developers cannot “negotiate” variances with the City, regardless of a project resulting in public benefits. While the Draft DSP creates flexible criteria and development standards for proposed planned integrated developments that incorporate public amenities and/or benefits in special planning areas, such as the Arts District and Central Bluffs Districts, in order for the City to approve a variance application, specific findings must be made by the Planning Commission at a public hearing or, if appealed, by the City Council at a public meeting.

Q: Is it true that revisions to the Downtown Specific Plan allow developers to “buy up” entire Downtown City blocks, like Ocean Avenue, and develop them into one giant building, up to three stories high?

A: No. While developers have the legal right to purchase property that is for sale, streets like Ocean Avenue will not be torn down to build a major block-long development. The updated DSP includes new policies and revised development standards that include, but are not limited to, changes to the maximum building height based upon location and criteria and a few exceptions to allow parcels to be merged together for development purposes that exceed 5,000 square feet.

The areas and types of projects that would allow for the merging of parcels to this effect are when a planned integrated development is proposed only within the Arts District and Central Bluffs District, and for projects that include affordable housing when located on Broadway, in the Arts District and in the Central Business District (CBD) Office Districts. Additionally, any new development in the Downtown would have to adhere to design guidelines that would address mass and scale issues, while also ensuring appropriate pedestrian orientation and village character.

Q: What is the history of the DSP Document?

A: The City formally recognized the need for a specific plan for the downtown in 1983 with adoption of the Land Use Element of the General Plan. In 1989, the Downtown Specific Plan was first approved, and has been subsequently amended, including a comprehensive amendment in 2000, which included the expansion of the Plan boundary to the Boys and Girls Club on Laguna Canyon Road and the creation of the Civic Art District. The Downtown Specific Plan has been successful in preserving the look and feel of a traditional downtown.

The changing nature of commerce, housing, transportation and circulation necessitate revisions that support flexibility to meet rapidly changing resident and visitor needs and to enhance vitality, while maintaining the special qualities of our Downtown. This document was formulated as a result of a multi-year process that included 2 public outreach workshops, 4 public outreach events, 4 stakeholder and Downtown business owner meetings, 38 stakeholder interviews, and 29 City Council and Planning Commission meetings thus far. Additional meetings will be held by the City Council before the document can be approved.

To find out more about the DSP, the full draft DSP document is available on the City’s website, or contact Wendy Jung, Senior Planner, at (949) 497-0321 or

City of Laguna Beach, November 21, 2019, Media Release

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