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Lake Forest council, with two new members, is looking ahead at busy 2019

Lake Forest City Council members say they hope to see 2019 run smoothly with cohesion among the elected officials and buy-in from residents.

“We should be focused on policies, and nothing more,” Councilman Dwight Robinson said. “I understand that a campaign gets brutal. But it feels like, since 2015, we are perpetually in a campaign mode.”

Multiple recall threats have punctuated the last four years – one last year was successful – and cost the city $330,000 with verifying signatures and running special recall elections. Tensions on the dais and in the community added to the distractions.

Still, the city has a lot to celebrate, Councilwoman Leah Basile said.

It is one of few California cities with no debt; a $72 million Civic Center should open this fall; and nearly a dozen parks are getting millions in renovations.

“We have done a tremendous amount of work,” she said.

Now with another election season behind them and two new faces – Neeki Moatazedi and Mark Tettemer – settled in on the dais, council members say they are looking ahead at a list of things to accomplish.

“It’s back to civility and back to business,” Moatazedi said. “The constituents can focus on issues we have coming up, and less on gossip.”

Looking ahead, the council will have its first real test with a request to build up to 675 homes at the former Nakase Nursery.

The project’s environmental review is expected to be finished up this spring or summer and then the council will be asked to approve rezoning the property – which the city has previously envisioned as a mix of retail, offices and light industrial activities – for the more housing-focused project.

While council members said they have to make their decision after hearing the project’s environmental review and future public input, Robinson has said he thinks the city has an oversupply of retail, considering the continuing shift to online shopping.

Councilman Scott Voigts said he likes the possibility the housing development could bring a new elementary school to the growing Foothill Ranch area.

The city will also continue working this year on a update to its general plan, the long-term vision that will direct development for the next couple decades.

The council members said they wouldn’t want high-density projects in the city.

“That’s not Lake Forest,” Tettemer said.

But many of them said the city needs to address the demand for housing in the area, with Voigts pondering whether shopping mall parking lots can shrink to make room for other uses.

Moatazedi also said she would like to attract more businesses to the city by stressing Lake Forest’s relatively affordable office spaces and marketing the city better.

The council is also exploring whether to partner in the future with cities such as Irvine or Mission Viejo for its animal control services.

Basile is still a fan of a more boutique-style animal shelter, saying bigger facilities can lead to higher rates of euthanasia. But Voigts said he has seen OC Animal Care, which now serves the city, change for the better.

“Those who were yelling the loudest have praised the new leadership,” Voigts said of the county agency that opened a new larger animal shelter last year and has said it is working hard to address past complaints.

And now that it is taking up nearly 40 percent of the city’s budget, finding ways to rein in the cost of its contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for police services will certainly be a continuing council focus.

“We want good service, but not at the cost of cities going underwater,” Basile said.

Basile said she expects she will be in a minority for a lot of coming votes, with the shift after the election in the council make up.

“I’m hopeful they will find ways to compromise on things,” she said of her peers. “I’m a perpetual optimist.”

Source: Orange County Register

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