Planning Commission Preview - April 24

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

The Planning Commission decided to have a meeting this week and the first two items on their agenda have been postponed.



Both of the postponed actions are appeals from 99 Cent stores to be allowed to peddle alcohol. Readers of this column know that Lake Forest has one of the highest concentrations of stores selling alcohol, and in some areas of the City the number of stores selling alcohol exceeds the limits set by the States’ Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) by 200% and even more than 300%. This unfortunate situation is one of the reasons why Lake Forest has so many DUIs (arrests for driving while intoxicated) and so many arrests for other forms of alcohol violations.  The past slack policy by City staff and the Planning Commission and the Council has given us a very sad situation indeed.

Last year some progress was made. To its credit, the Planning Commission refused to recommend new licenses to stores that wanted to open up in “oversaturated areas”. The Council let one slip through in appeal, but voted against the second, sustaining the PC’s decision. At some point, the Council asked that the entire process be put under review, but apparently this was one of the “Voigts Void” issues that still sit on a table somewhere waiting to be taken up. Hence, the process still goes through the Director of Development Services who, to her credit, denied the requests. I’m told that there is some pressure being applied by a Council member who wants to get one of his relatives a job at the 99 Cents store, so if this is true, the resolve by the Director is even more admirable.

From what I can see both of these stores are in areas that are already oversaturated, so the decision should be simple for the PC.

BTW – my wife is probably one of the biggest fans of the 99 Cents store, so my comments here demonstrate that I am willing to risk my wellbeing to get this information out. But the truth is that the 99 Cents stores do a flourishing business without selling alcohol and they are a great addition to our City without selling alcohol



Despite anything you’ve been told, Lake Forest is still suffering from the recession that overtook the nation a few years ago. Everywhere you go there are vacant storefronts, and in some cases, where the stores are no longer vacant, the new tenants are substantially less attractive, nor merely physically, but also economically.  Shopping centers on El Toro past Trabuco, on Muirlands near Lake Forest, and on Rockfield near Lake Forest (to mention just a few) look slightly better than war zones. So it’s with great pleasure we see that Gateway Center (Rockfield and Lake Forest) plans to undergo a major remodel. The plans look terrific and the PC should do everything in its power to get this project on the fast track.

Click on the photo above to see an architect's sketch of the proposed remodel.


The City Council spent hours debating the best ways to revise the City code with regard to campaign signs. It was a sometimes heated debate, especially considering that three seats are up for election this year, and the people directly impacted had a lot to say. Like most things, their recommendations have some good ideas and some terrible ideas. But this is a strange process indeed, because the Council itself drew up the plans and now gives them to the PC, all of whom were appointed by the PC, and many of whom were appointed because they were 15-year friends, co-workers, campaign supporters, etc. So it’s doubtful that the PC would question even the dumbest of the recommendations, and even if they did, the Council will surely overrule their objections. What should be a long and exciting debate will probably be a quick and dirty roll-over.

The meeting starts at 7 pm at the City Hall. That means you’ve got time to attend the Park Design at the Baker Ranch which starts at 6 pm. The Baker Ranch people have been generous enough to indicate that they will provide a bus, borrowed from Musick Jail who are neighbors, to shuttle people from the Baker Ranch to the City Hall. Along the way you get to look at the space where the $100,000,000 “maximum security” new jail will be built.


(PS – I’m joking about the bus – but only about the bus.)

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Jim Gardner April 25, 2014 at 03:39 PM
Part of the cause of the corruption that I point out so often is caused by the high costs of signs, mailers etc. So personally I like your idea of the dollar limit. Of all the people who sat in a Council seat in the past 10 bears, only Nick has been above the fray and had no "vested interest" money in his campaign coffers. Even most of the people who lost, lost with "vested interest" money in their pockets. Campaigns are expensive, and in every election, the people who won are the people who spent the most, and if I recall correctly, their rank in votes was the same as their rank in spending. In 2012, #1 spending Nick was #1 vote getter. In 2010, #1 spending Voigts was the #1 vote getter. etc.
OldTimer April 25, 2014 at 04:32 PM
Yes, Mr. Gardner. But an eyesore sign is still an eyesore sign whether it was purchase with one's own money or with someone elses money. It still hurts my eyes. Either way. And if you spend upwards of $15000 on signs (whether it's with personal funds or with other people's money) it's really going to hurt my eyes. Especially when they are spaced 15 yards apart on both sides of the street for a mile up and down the road. And yes, you are correct. MONEY BUYS ELECTED SEATS. You have shown this to be true in Lake Forest and based on my observations it holds true in 95% of other local and state elections. But I have no idea why someone would spend many dozens of thousands of their own dollars for a lousy $7500 council seat. That just boggles my mind.
Jon Prystasz April 25, 2014 at 07:54 PM
Jim, on behalf of the project developer I justed wanted to say a big thank you for your positive comments and support of the Lake Forest Gateway development project last night. We have been working hard on a plan that we feel will give this project the best chance to not only revitalize the area, but will also provide many places for local patrons to shop and gather. We are hoping to make this property the best it can be. Thank you!
Jim Gardner April 25, 2014 at 07:57 PM
Hi Jon. You're welcome. I think you guys did a great job in what is a very difficult situation where there is a clear need. I'm looking forward to seeing your progress. And thank you for investing your time and energy to help make Lake Forest a better place.
Jim Gardner April 25, 2014 at 09:17 PM
BTW - I failed to mention that I thought the Planning Commission did a good job trying to deal with the complex realities of the situation. And I continue to be impressed by Commissioner Ludden's contributions. That being said, I suspect that Jim Richert is correct and there may be a traffic problem as a result of installing a traffic light. But no plan can be perfect and it looks like on balance this will be positive for everyone.


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