Twenty-two speakers queued up at the rostrum Tuesday to communicate their views to the City Council on the Village Entrance Project.
The public communications period is 30 minutes, unless extended by the council. People can speak on any subject not on the agenda. Tuesday's public communications ran more than an hour, dominated by opponents and supporters of the proposed Village Entrance.
"This was a hearing, not public communications, which is only supposed to be a half-hour or continued to the end of the meeting," said Mayor Kelly Boyd, after 50 minutes of public testimony. "That is exactly what I will do if this happens again."
Anti-project speakers were in the majority, reiterating their concerns about its cost, ability to attract motorists to downtown and aesthetics. Nine speakers gave their support to the project.
"No one on the council or the opponents has seen a design, so we don't know what it will cost," said Boyd, who has publicly supported putting the project on the ballot.
A proposed design is tentatively scheduled to be presented to the council at its first meeting in October.
"I encourage each and every one of our citizens, including the City Council members, be they for or against the Village Entrance, to wait for the Studio One Eleven architectural rendering on Oct. 1, so all can base their opinions on a visually concrete model," said Gregg Abel, an architectural designer and contractor.
"In this way, we can be confident that our impassioned opinions are supported by a real concept instead of hearsay."
Project opposition leader Rita Conn said new information raises questions not only about the $65 million cost bruited about and the appearance of the project, but environmental hazards, including possible toxic residue at the site from an abandoned gas station/repair shop and a trash dump.
"But the $65 million question is why don't you listen to the citizens and let Laguna vote?" said Conn, one of the 13 speakers opposed to the Village Entrance Project, most of whom had spoken at previous meetings.
Conn is the spokeswoman for the diverse group that calls itself Let Laguna Vote, but she said the name of the group is actually not its intent.
She said she is confident that with new information provided by opponents of the project, the council will reassess its position.
If fact, she told the council that she asked Paul Merritt to back off from his intent to put the issue on the ballot.
"At this time, the action is unnecessary," Conn said.
However, in a press release submitted at Tuesday's council meeting, Merritt said he had changed his strategy from a petition drive for a referendum to a ballot initiative and the group's name from Let Laguna Vote to We the People.
"We the People are ready to get a ballot issue before the voters in an efficient, streamlined and responsible fashion," Merritt said.
Merritt said the Village Entrance opposition has created strange bedfellows, with the Laguna Taxpayers Assn. joining environmentalists.
"This proposed project has generated much public attention, as evidenced by the number of letters in our newspapers and public comments before this body," Village Laguna President Ginger Osborne told the council.
She announced a "community conversation" on the Village Entrance, hosted by Village Laguna at 7 p.m. Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Hall, 429 Cypress St.
The meeting, which will include speakers and a question-and-answer period, is open to the public.