Opening a business in Laguna Beach is a bit like studying for an exam: It helps to do homework.
That is the advice from Planning Commissioners and a Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce official.
And as any test taker knows, expect a few unexpected questions.
The city has made a concerted effort to reach out to the business community to hear its challenges and suggestions through a series of Open for Business workshops. The roundtable discussions will include business owners and officials from the city, City Council, Planning Commission, and chamber.
Councilman Steve Dicterow, planning commissioners Anne Johnson and Linda Dietrich and planner Monica Tuchscher listened to Laguna Beach resident and small-business owner Kavita Reddy, among others, at the most recent workshop, held June 20 at the Susi Q Senior Center.
The goal of the workshops is to help make opening a business less complicated for prospective business owners.
"We were concerned so many people felt they couldn't get through the bureaucracy of City Hall," Johnson said.
A business' location plays a key role in the amount of regulation it must deal with.
Downtown stores face stricter scrutiny than shops in north or south Laguna because of the city's Downtown Specific Plan.
The plan is a road map of development guidelines for residents and businesses in an area bordered by the Laguna Canyon frontage road to the east, Pacific Ocean to the west, and Cliff Drive and Legion Street to the north and south, respectively.
The guidelines are meant to protect the city's mix of architectural styles, small-scale buildings and variety of shops.
Robin's Jean, a clothing store at 264 Forest Ave., has already opened, but Planning Commissioners were concerned that the store's original facade had too much metal, which could reflect sunlight and or headlights, creating glare for pedestrians and motorists.
At the May 8 Planning Commission meeting, city staff asked Lance Polster, the store's agent, to redo the facade using less metal.
Polster returned to the commission's June 12 meeting with a refurbished front that would include about 44% stucco, 24% metal and 32% glass. The original design used 70% metal and 30% glass.
"All materials are reflective, even glass," Polster said during the meeting. "I'm not sure it's a safety issue with cars."
Commissioners debated the merits and drawbacks of possible designs and how the overall facade factored into the downtown's overall look and feel.
Planning Commission Chairman Norm Grossman and Commissioner Robert Zur Schmiede both said the original frontage was too industrial-looking for Forest Avenue at two separate meetings.
Dietrich was concerned about the reflection but liked Polster's changes.
"I like the addition of soffits to change the depth, and the amount of metal is just fine," Dietrich said at the June 12 meeting. "The [city's] urban design guidelines discourage sameness, and this is set apart from other buildings."
Planning Commissioners approved the design 5 to 0 with the condition that the metal could be removed and resurfaced to reduce glare if the city's Director of Community Development John Montgomery decided that was necessary.