Laguna Beach City Council approved the purchase of the property beneath Laguna Beach Public Library for $4.29 million on April 12. They removed previous clauses that suggested the building be relocated, quelling concerns about the loss of the beloved community building.
In a 4-1 vote, the city council agreed on a 25-year lease and purchased the land from Orange County, which had previously owned and operated the library under the OC Public Library System. The city will also need to lease a portion of the building to house the office for the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce for three years.
The resolution permitted up to $4.29 million to be paid for the acquisition as well as an additional $2.8 million provided by the county’s property tax revenues to finance routine maintenance, refurbishments and other renovations to the building. This was perceived as an all-around victory by Laguna Beach residents.
The proposal has been under strict scrutiny by the public since lease negotiations restarted in August 2021. The point of contention involved Clauses No. 9 and No. 14 of the lease terms that suggested the county was “investigating the possibility of relocating the free County public library.” Councilmember Peter Blake, the only dissenting vote, had previously gone on record to claim that the property of Laguna Beach Library could be made into a convenient parking lot for downtown activities. Compounded with the fact that the original terms noted a mere three-year lease agreement compared to the resolved 25 years, residents suspected that the city had ulterior motives for the structure.
David Raber, principal officer for the Laguna Residents First initiative that advocates for resident-centered city growth, created an online petition opposing any possibility of building a parking lot and demanding the city council to present a comprehensive plan for a library location if there were plans of relocation. If the city council’s intentions were to preserve this library, then the petition called to not purchase the land and leave it under the jurisdiction of the county. The petition amassed 1,496 signatories in total.
Residents gathered at the public hearing to give their testimonies in support of preserving the library on April 12.
“A library is a culturally important component of any vibrant community and we have a unique library here,” Laguna Beach resident Paul Holmes said in the public hearing.
“This plan prioritizes money and tourists over the residents of our own city. I and over 1000 people signed the petition to urge the city council to leave our library alone,” an unidentified Laguna Beach resident said during the hearing.
Mayor Sue Kempf expressed her support for the purchase before the final vote.
“I do think it needs technological upgrades and it needs physical upgrades,” Kempf said.
She argued that by purchasing the land and placing it under the purview of the city, it could make improvements to the library that are more receptive to the needs of local residents.
The library, located on 363 Glenneyre Street, was built in 1972 under an agreement made between Laguna Beach and Orange County in 1970. The city was given the option to purchase the property within 50 years from the date of the initial agreement. The city council had begun negotiating terms by January 2020 as it was set to expire by then. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the council to push the matter to a later date.
Talks resumed in August 2021, and an appraisal of the property was completed in September. During the final vote, Councilmember George Weiss emphasized that due to rising property costs, this would be the city’s only opportunity to purchase the library property and the land surrounding it at an acceptable price.
“Buy the library. By all means, let’s control it but let’s keep it a library. Let’s invest some of that money, that $4.2 million, to turn it into something that’s much better than it is today,” Weiss said before the final vote.
As it stands, the library will continue to serve the residents of Laguna Beach for years to come.
Kane Hong is a City News Intern for the 2022 spring quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.