Isn't great to live in Laguna Beach surrounded by 22,000 acres of natural open space? Elsewhere in Orange County the boundaries between two cities are just lines with no buffer to urban sprawl.

How did this happen? Was it just an accident? No.

It is thanks to the great leadership of lots of people. The Laguna Greenbelt was founded in 1968; its founder, bookstore owner Jim Dilley, provided the vision. I live in the Top of the World neighborhood, and we benefited significantly from a California state environmental bond passed in 1988. Proposition 70 included $10 million for the city of Laguna Beach to expand the greenbelt. At that time, the 471 acres north of the end of Alta Laguna Boulevard were owned by a Canadian company, Carma-Sandling, which obtained approvals from the Orange County to build a 100-plus home development, which was to be a gated community. Somehow, the city was able to buy the 471 acres for $4 million, most of it coming from Proposition 70.

The Irvine Co. had a 3,500-house Laguna Laurel development planned in Laguna Canyon. On Nov. 11, 1989, the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, the Laguna Greenbelt, Village Laguna, the city and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the Walk in the Canyon to bring the Irvine Co. to its negotiating knees after 7,500 citizens walked in the canyon that day.

In 1990, Laguna Beach voters elected to raise their property taxes about 6% to raise $20 million for the Laguna Laurel purchase. Measure H passed by almost 80%.

Undeveloped property often appears to be protected open space. However, many parcels are privately owned and could be developed. Over the years, the city manager has been able to buy properties as the property owner and city's interests coincide. The city requires a funding source to make these purchases, which over the years has included federal and state government grants, and state environmental bonds. We even used to save up parking meter quarters prior to the 1994 Orange County bankruptcy when the City Council's policy was to allocate half of the Parking Authority Fund revenues for open space.

None of these sources are likely to be available in the future. What are we to do? Where are the leaders today? Well, they have drafted an Open Space Initiative and are trying to secure signatures from Laguna Beach voters to place the initiative on the ballot.

I have signed the initiative. I think it is a no-brainer to provide the city a revenue stream to buy and maintain open space, about $1 million a year limited to 20 years. In the early years, I paid about $300 per year additional property tax toward buying the Laguna Laurel open space in Laguna Canyon. The amount declined over the years and the bond is now completely paid off. The Open Space Initiative would be a parcel tax having each parcel owner pay $10 a month or $120 per year for 20 years. Please support this effort as it will require a two-thirds positive vote.

Gene Felder

Laguna Beach


Open space parcel tax unfair taxation

The Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space is collecting signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to add $120 a year on every property owner's property tax bill for 20 years. Please don't sign this petition or heaven forbid vote for it if it's put on a ballot. I, for one, am tired of being taxed over and over for every project that benefits a small select group. If this organization is so concerned about saving these vacant parcels, let them raise the money some way other than forcing property owners to carry the burden.

I would like to know how the Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space consider this method of collecting $20 million fair and equitable. Any registered voter, regardless of if they own, rent, live with their parents or in the shelter can sign or vote on this measure. It's not an unbiased representation of who is ultimately going to be stuck with the cost for the next 20 years!

Of all the registered voters in Laguna, how many actually pay the taxes on a parcel of land? Why should the people who don't pay property taxes and wouldn't be impacted with additional taxes have a vote? Why didn't the Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space contact every property owner in Laguna and ask if they would like to buy these bare lots with an assessment? One vote per parcel. Not every spouse, adult child, mother-in-law living in a rented apartment complex or house should decide if I want the burden of paying for this open space. This would also give the property owner who rents out their home a vote. Unless these property owners also live in Laguna, they most likely are registered in the city where they live and therefore not able to vote on a Laguna ballot.

The answer is obvious. This is a quote taken from their flier: "The Citizens for the Preservation of Open Space have worked tirelessly to draft, redraft and perfect the project, spending tens of thousands of dollars on expert help to get it right."

Yes, they have spent tens of thousands of dollars to ensure that the actual people paying for the project won't be heard and that the measure will be pushed through by the majority of citizens not required to put forth any cash. How many signatures would they get if the people signing this petition were asked to hand over $120 on the spot and pledge to pay an additional $120 for the next 20 years? Very few, if any. But they certainly don't mind if someone else pays.

Jill Cooper

Laguna Beach