The BevMo! construction project where Del Prado meets Pacific Coast Highway. Photo: Matt Cortina
The BevMo! construction project where Del Prado meets Pacific Coast Highway. Photo: Matt Cortina

By Kristina Pritchett and Matt Cortina

It might seem like Ballot Measures H and I were created solely to confuse the residents of Dana Point. With all the town hall meetings, signs posted around town, encyclopedia-length ballots, heated letters to the editor in the Dana Point Times, videos, court rulings—well, it’s OK to be confused. But in its best light, the back-and-forth between Measure H and Measure I supporters is democracy in action. So the DP Times met and spoke with the proponents and writers of each ballot issue to get the answer to this one simple question: What would it mean if either ballot measure passed?

ESSENTIAL BACKGROUND

In 2004, the city of Dana Point decided it was time to redevelop Town Center—the area between Pacific Coast Highway and Del Prado, and between Street of the Copper Lantern and Street of the Blue Lantern. It had long gone underdeveloped, and the city said it was hearing input from residents that it wanted a development plan.

The city initiated a planning process, which included hiring urban design consultants to study the area and make recommendations. It also involved creating a 15-member panel, called the Town Center Subcommittee, which was established by the City Council and included two city council members and one planning commissioner, among other residents and consultants.

Over the course of a year, the Town Center Subcommittee held 30 public meetings to get input into what residents wanted in the Town Center area and to share design elements as they emerged. The city mailed meeting notices to business and property owners in the surrounding neighborhoods to get their insight into the process—in all, over 300 newspaper articles were published in local papers.

And in June 2005, the Council adopted 10 guiding principles to use going forward with the Town Center development. Number One was to “Keep the family-oriented, beach community character of Dana Point.”

The city recognized that a “mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment” would encompass what they heard designers, developers and residents say they wanted. This included the creation of pedestrian courtyards, art features, centrally located public restrooms, safety buffers between sidewalks and roads, and more. It also called to make Del Prado and PCH two-way roads.

Also notably, the city recognized that “accessible and convenient public parking is essential to the health and the vitality of the Town Center.” The original plan said that “it is expected that the City Council would acquire land in the Town Center for a centralized parking facility(ies) funded by fees from new building construction and located in a parking district.” It laid out in policy that the city would, at least, create an off-street parking district, and would also provide “opportunities for shared parking” in the area—parking spots that users of multiple businesses and residences can use. It required developers to provide parking according to existing city code (more on that later) and allowed developers to create off-site parking to meet their parking requirements or pay to offset costs of creating their required spaces elsewhere, called in-lieu fees.

And the last major thing the original plan determined was the building heights in the Town Center area could not exceed 40 feet and three stories, measured from the level of the sidewalk at the midpoint of the front property line.

This ordinance, and all its plans, which totaled about $19 million, was passed in 2008, and received approval from the California Coastal Commission, which oversees land use concerns in the state’s coastal regions. But with the economy tanking, no action was taken for many years. But eventually the city felt enough momentum and economic vitality to go forward with the Town Center revitalization.

A signed taped to the edifice of an historic building in the Lantern District, which currently has no tenant. Photo: Matt Cortina
A signed taped to the edifice of an historic building in the Lantern District, which currently has no tenant. Photo: Matt Cortina

A development group called Majestic Partners submitted plans in July 2014 for a mixed-use project calling for the construction of 30,000 square feet of retail space and 111 residential units to be built on seven non-contiguous lots in the city’s downtown. It was the first example of the Town Center plan in action.

The Dana Point Planning Commission voted two members for and two against those plans, which included the construction of three elevator shafts that rose to higher than 55 feet and were required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to give access to the rooftop for disabled people. The building itself was 40 feet high, but the elevator shafts added 15-18 feet more height on top of the building. The Majestic plans also called for four stories of units on the side Lantern streets.

That tied Planning Commission vote (one member was not in attendance) meant that the plans were not passed. However, Majestic appealed to the City Council in 2014, which approved their plans by a 3-1 margin, with current Councilman Carlos Olvera and Assemblyman Bill Brough voting in favor. They stipulated that Majestic would have to pay in-lieu parking fees, in accordance with the Town Center plan, but Mayor Lisa Bartlett was the lone dissenter of the plans, citing concerns about a lack of parking.

(The Majestic project was then later acquired by the group Raintree Partners, and the development plans were modified and approved to include 32,500 square feet of retail space and 109 units.)

Then in 2015, the current City Council voted to amend the Town Center plan. The amendment changed the name of the Town Center plan to the “Lantern District” plan. But, to much more public outcry, the city also amended its parking regulations for new development. Those changes included the allowance of non-residential projects to pay fees in lieu of providing parking spots. For non-residential units, it required two parking spots per 1,000 square feet, which may be provided off-site. And for residential units, it required one spot per 2,000 square feet, with a minimum of one parking space per unit. That is reduced from the original Town Center plan, which called for the use of existing zone regulations, which called for four spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial space, 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet for restaurant parking, and between 1.7 and 2.7 spaces for 1-3 bedroom residential units.

That’s a lot of numbers, but the point is it was the parking plan that the city devised after it had “punted” on in their original Town Center plan. The Majestic/Raintree project would be the parking plan’s first major test run.

But shortly after this passage, a group of citizens filed a petition to put a measure on the ballot that would revert many of the changes made by the City Council in that amendment, while also adding a number of new regulations. That ballot measure, now known as Measure H, garnered enough signatures and is now on the June 7 ballot.

After it appeared Measure H would go to voters, the City Council voted in February 2016 to put up their own ballot measure that essentially codifies the changes they made in September 2015. That’s Measure I.

Since, you’ve seen the signs and heard the speeches. No small chaos ensued when a court ruled to amend parts of Measure H supporters’ rebuttal to Measure I. There was a Hitler video.

But as it stands, there are three key issues on which the two ballot measures diverge. They are parking, building height and lawsuits. This breakdown is in no way exhaustive but features the key points we heard from both sides.

Signs supporting both measures have been ubiquitous in Dana Point. Photo: Matt Cortina
Signs supporting both measures have been ubiquitous in Dana Point. Photo: Matt Cortina

PARKING

Measure H: Measure H would require new development to follow previous zoning regulations. A few of those were outlined above, but the zoning code includes specific requirements for many different types of buildings—hospitals, day care facilities, libraries, etc., which all have different requirements. Simply put: They require developers to provide more parking spots or pay for those spots with in-lieu fees than Measure I would.

Measure H would continue to allow in-lieu parking, and would require developers to pay $40,000 per space.

Measure I: Measure I marries the parking code approved by Council in September 2015 with the Town Center, now Lantern District, plan. That means the city will continue to seek shared parking spaces—they have acquired over 100 spaces that were previously private and made them public. The city says it has also gained a concession from Raintree that their development will include over 100 public parking spots.

It will also follow the guidelines for parking for new development outlined above, which includes that spots for retail development must be public.

Measure I would also call for the installation of valet stations where parking is a concern, and institute preferential parking zones (if approved by a given neighborhood) where residents can park for free with a sticker, and visitors would pay.

The city maintains that it has too much parking currently, citing a major parking study they contracted, and can institute a parking district when needed and can also look at creating a parking structure if the need develops.

For instance: Consider a hypothetical development project with 30,000 square feet of retail space and 100 residential units. Half the retail is restaurants and half is other retail. And 75 percent of the residential units are two-bedrooms, and the other 25 percent are one-bedroom units.

Under Measure H, that project would have to provide or pay for about 417 spots. Under Measure I, that project would have to provide or pay for about 235 spots. Some developers might think that Measure H’s parking requirement is cost prohibitive, while some residents might say Measure I doesn’t provide enough parking.

BUILDING HEIGHT AND STORIES

Measure H: Measure H would require the maximum height of any building feature to not exceed 40 feet, plus 42 inches for select items like machinery and chimneys. This includes the prohibition of elevator shafts that exceed 40 feet that give access to the roof deck.

In all likelihood, developers would have to choose between adding a third floor of living space or providing a roof deck, since elevator shafts can rise to 18 feet above the roof.

Measure H also calls for the instillation of story poles at prospective development sites, which would allow the public to see how high a project would be for 20 days ahead of a Planning Commission meeting where the project would be reviewed.

Measure H would also require buildings to only have three stories—units on the ground floor on the side Lantern streets would still need to meet height requirements of an 18-foot ceiling. This is because Measure H’s floor regulations apply to all of the Lantern District streets, while Measure I only applies to development units facing Del Prado and PCH.

Lastly, Measure H would require building height to be measured from the middle of the lowest and highest points on the entire lot—as opposed to the middle of the highest and lowest points of the property at the sidewalk level, which is the current stipulation. This would result in starting points that are both higher and lower than current regulations.

Measure I: The current Lantern District Plan regulations for building height would be confirmed. That would mean as long as the building itself stops at 40 feet, elevator shafts can rise above it. For instance, on the Raintree project, some estimates are that elevator shafts make up less than one percent of the total roof area. This would allow developers to create roof decks on top of three- and four-floor buildings.

The city found that buildings up to 60 feet in the Lantern District do not impede views, as found in a study by Focus 360.

Measure I would also allow the units on side Lantern streets to be stacked in four stories, allowing bottom floor units to drop from 18 feet to 10 feet, but the bottom floor must still be non-residential. The city says this would encourage businesses to rent those smaller units, and incur less cost.

Measure I would measure building height from the middle point of the property at sidewalk level. This, like Measure H, would result in varying heights.

Both Measure I and H call for the enforcement of at least a 10-foot setback for buildings on Del Prado and PCH, to prevent, in theory, the “canyon” effect—where streets appear narrow because of tall buildings on either side.

A vacant lot in the Lantern District. Photo: Matt Cortina
A vacant lot in the Lantern District. Photo: Matt Cortina

LAWSUITS AND BALLOT BOX ZONING

Measure H says “Any aggrieved person or Dana Point registered voter shall have the right to maintain an action for equitable relief to restrain any violation of this Act, or City failure to enforce the duties imposed on it by this Act.”

It is unclear, even to those in the city, how much litigation would be incurred by this inclusion. Currently, to lodge a complaint against development, a resident would need to attend all relevant hearings and log public complaints, according to the city. Measure H would possibly allow people to file lawsuits without going through that process.

City officials could not confirm how many zoning changes would occur under Measure H’s regulation. However, if Measure H passes, any zoning changes would have to go to a vote of Dana Point residents, at taxpayer’s expense, and then also have to pass through the Coastal Commission. This is typically called “ballot box zoning.” That said, the city’s current parking plan, which would be codified with Measure I’s passage, was delayed by the Coastal Commission until fall or winter 2016 in order to see how the ballot measures play out.

ONE LAST THING

Both measures need 50 percent of votes to pass, plus one extra vote. If both measures pass, the measure with the most votes will win. If both measures fail, then the city will continue with its current plan, which is essentially Measure I.

About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (7)

  • Thank goodness someone finally wrote a clear article comparing the two measures. Both sides have good points but boy has this issues gotten out of hand. I was at the Art Walk a few weeks ago and a measure H person was screaming at people. It was embarrassing! This is our home Dana Pointers. We can disagree without resorting to name calling (both sides) and dirty tactics (both sides). We will still be neighbors after all this.

    No one wants big box buildings in town center but we do want new shops, restaurants, and yes, residential in town center. It was in the original plan and should still happen. I’ve heard Raintree’s project might be apartments. I know, I know. It’s a huge project that started all of this. (On a side note, it’s concerning that the only project that is moving forward so far was a project that cobbled a bunch of lots together to make the numbers work. If H passes, will this be the only type of building we’ll see? Without concessions, will lots stay empty until a developer can buy several to make the numbers work and build. I don’t know. Just a BIG concern. And don’t point out the union bank building. I’ve watched all their presentations and there are concerns they won’t be able to make the numbers work either or get funding)

    Okay back to apartments. Good! Our young professionals and families are leaving Dana Point in droves. These groups can’t afford to buy a house but still want to live here. I’m happy new options will open up for them. Some of our residents are against apartments saying it will bring crime and transients to the area. Well, we already have that now which, studies say can increase if a section of the city stays stagnant. Our town centerI highly doubt someone paying thousands of dollars in rent each month will attract the “unsavouries” to town center. I heard someone actually day apartments could cause stabbings on the corner and drug dealing. What??? No, really, what????

    After reading your article, I’m most concerned with the ambiguous language about lawsuits in H. Say what you will, that kind of language sets up the city for wasting time and money (taxpayers) on defending themselves against anyone who decides to sue if they feel justified or wronged. If you’ve ever watched a city council meeting, you know there are plenty of crazies out there who would do just that. That won’t move our town center forward but backward.

    I think I’m going to vote no on both. Time for the city to look at what brought these measures on and work to a compromise that everyone can live with. And time to get back to being neighborly.

  • Thank you for your article. Let me say a word on the lawsuits. As a lawyer for 30 years, the Measure H language does not give anyone a right they don’t already have. The key words in the Measure H text are “…shall have the right…” With or without Measure H, we all have the right to file a lawsuit if we believe we have been or may immediately be actually and personally injured by someone else. But there is a very big hurdle for a plaintiff (the person filing the suit) to meet. It’s called Standing. A defendant (the person sued) can get the case tossed out of court quickly by filing with the court a few pieces of paper (a motion) telling the judge that the plaintiff lacks standing. If the judge agrees, not only can the judge throw out the case, the judge can order the plaintiff to pay defendant all attorneys’ fees and costs defendant had to pay in the lawsuit.

    Let’s not minimize the enormous expense and time commitment it takes to sue. It is not something done just because it can be done. Generally, once I explain how legal fees work, how much a lawsuit can be expected to cost and ask for the retainer before we start, most decide not to sue. Then I explain about the year(s) long personal time commitment. There will almost certainly be many lengthy written questions from the defendant’s lawyer that the plaintiff must read, discuss with his/her attorney and answer under oath. A plaintiff will have to sort through many documents and emails to produce or refute evidence. A plaintiff will almost certainly be questioned by a lawyer under oath for a day or more (deposition). If there is a trial, plaintiff will be there every day of the trial.

    In short, in my years of experience, only the very few who have actually personally suffered substantial injury are willing to commit the time, the money and endure the emotional strain of suing someone.

  • Long-Time Resident Reply

    If H passes, then its sponsors should be given an award as marketing and sales people of the year.

    • Thanks Bob we really appreciate the compliment since the residents involved with getting Measure H passed have given up many hours of their daily life to communicate to fellow residents about how you and your cronies want to destroy the quality of life we enjoy in Dana Point and give it away to developers (such as yourself). All the $80,000 plus money you got developers to give you for Measure I to irritate people with those glossy mailers full of misinformation and even more irritating robo calls didn’t endear you to the electorate and using Bill Brough as your poster boy only fueled the anger that people felt for him voting to give Majestic their way to begin with. So yes, great personal sacrifice with very little money invested is something we will be proud of for many years to come.

  • While it is easy and convenient to summarily discount Measure H as “ballot box zoning”, the flip side is that without it we are heading toward a zoning by variance environment. The current Planning Department, City Council and Planning Commission with their first major town center approval (Majestic/Raintree) and proposal (the reduced parking requirements) have shown little regard for the Town Center Plan that was over a decade in the making, requiring both city and Coastal Commission approval before being written into the development codes of Dana Point. They frequently refer to the plan now as a mere “guideline”, open to interpretation. At the same time they have introduced the competing Measure I that by your own analysis has no more impact than a vote against Measure H would have. When asked why Measure I was introduced, the council response was that it was to “better inform” the electorate. Ballot initiatives are not textbooks or educational tools, they are for citizens to give a thumbs up or down to issues in their community. How can Measure I be looked at as anything other than a device to confuse the voters as you stated, “It might seem like Ballot Measures H and I were created solely to confuse the residents of Dana Point.”

    City staff and council are effectively saying “Trust Us”, we know what is best for you. This from a council who has been openly derisive of constituents who speak up at meetings and a planning staff who has shown disregard for the Town Center plan that was carefully crafted by their predecessors. Measure H puts in place checks and balances to keep the city staff and council accountable for their actions. Personally, they lost my trust with their variance approvals for the Majestic/Raintree project and their proposed parking reduction plan.

  • Well said, DP Local. I’d like to thank the Dana Point Times for writing a fair and balanced analysis that stayed clear of political biases, unlike some of our other local publications. I have reservations about ballot box zoning too, and I don’t think the Measure H folks would have resorted to an initiative at all if they had a Council they could trust to look out for the residents of Dana Point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Council that is so disconnected from its constituents. They take the Brown Act to a point where they think they can’t ask questions, or discuss grievances in the public forum at all. They often leave any meaningful discussion or questions to the City Manager and City Attorney, who many feel are the real people who run the City.

    Where would we all be if our Council had enough respect for constituents to sit down in a face to face meeting and discuss their concerns? Could some parking and height standards in the middle have been negotiated, avoiding all this hullabaloo? Measure H was a reaction to a Council that seems to think they are kings or dictators. Being elected by a small margin ( or even a large margin) doesn’t mean you can run roughshod over the people you pledge to represent. By siding with developers and special interests over residents, and by granting variances way beyond the intent of the original plan, the folks behind Measure H felt they had no other course but a ballot initiative. No one imagined our Council would be so audacious that they’d create a useless Measure to confuse voters and create such a mess. The people deserved the chance for an up and down vote. The real casualty in all this is the democratic process.

    Measure H is as much a vote of “no confidence” in the present Council as it is a statement about the Lantern District.

  • For those who may not have yet have voted, I urge you to go to http://www.Savedanapoint.com and click on “Details”. There you will find both “H” and “I” with their complete texts and highlights. Also, you will find the original text of the 2008 Town Center Plan, also with highlights. Regarding the City’s new parking plan, you will find the staff report version showing the deletions and insertions in the Town Center Plan highlighted, which wasn’t presented to the voters in their ballot statements.

    I have personally enjoyed meeting and talking to so many great Dana Point residents. Your patience and support has been amazing.

    HAPPY VOTING!

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