Oakbrook Village a mixed use project in Laguna Hills

LAGUNA HILLS, CA – The residential project, which broke ground two years ago, is adjacent to the Oakbrook Village retail center, which is undergoing a façade remodel and other improvements.

Both projects are part of the Urban Village Specific Plan, a vision created by the city in 2002 to give a 240-acre area in Laguna Hills a face-lift and more of a downtown, said David Chantarangsu, community development director for Laguna Hills. The new Civic Center area and the future renovation of Laguna Hills Mall are also part of the redevelopment area.

“A downtown is kind of like the social heart of the community and creates a sense of place,” he said.

The redevelopment is part of a larger trend in south Orange County for cities striving to create more of a city center. In Laguna Niguel, plans for the Agora Arts District Downtown Project feature a mixed-use development with specialty retail, restaurants, event space, 200 rental apartments and walkable open space plazas. Lake Forest has undertaken a similar revitalization project along El Toro Road.


The Spanish-style residential project, which offers one- and two-bedroom apartments from $1,860 to $2,700 a month, features a sky deck, pool with private cabanas, barbecue and seating areas and an outdoor movie theater. It also has a residential lounge, game room, fitness center and ground-level parking within a gated portion of the building and subterranean parking in the back.

Sarah Klaustermeier, multi-family development manager for Shea Properties, said the apartments will appeal to everyone from college age to empty-nesters. She noted the complex has no playground, but that doesn’t preclude families from living there.

Area residents shopping at Oakbrook Village recently seemed pleased with the development. “More people mean more stores and businesses,” said Tara Gonzales of Laguna Hills. “Good rental spots are needed.”

The apartment complex includes 11,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level, which the company is looking to lease to two restaurants and up to five retail businesses, Klaustermeier said.

A 17,000-square-foot village green with a lawn area, entertainment stage, shaded seating and public art displays will be completed between the Oakbrook Village shopping center and the apartments in the fall. Pedestrian paseos will connect the residential area with the center and the Laguna Hills Mall, Klaustermeier said.

“The attempt is to create a symbiotic relationship where people don’t have to drive to get food, go to restaurants, entertainment or get a haircut,” said Paul Bernard, Fritz Duda’s western region vice president.

“It will be fun to get to see new stuff,” said Laguna Woods resident Gloria Gentile, who has been coming to the shopping center for 10 years. “It’s all positive changes.”

As part of the approved project from the city, Fritz Duda has the option to build another 200 apartment units within 12 years at the site. However, there are no plans taken yet to move forward with that project, Bernard said.


To make room for the new housing, an 86,000-square-foot retail building had to be demolished in the Oakbrook Village shopping center and its tenants relocated to other parts of the center.

The center, owned and operated by Fritz Duda since the late 1970s, is undergoing a redesign to a brighter Spanish-style exterior. The renovation of the 26,000-square-foot building that houses Trader Joe’s and Woody’s Diner has been completed, Bernard said. The building’s dark wooden beams and roof have been replaced with brighter colors, a smooth exterior finish and a Spanish tile roof. “This will make it look like a brand new center,” Bernard said.

In August, work will start on the 52,000-square-foot building housing Marshalls, Mandarin Terrace and Road Runner Sports, along with the building where Calico, a fabric and upholstery store, is located. The renovations are expected to be completed in December.

“It will be nice to have it renovated,” said Jerrad Bresyn, who works at Road Runner Sports. “This area is kind of hidden so more customers couldn’t hurt.”

Some locals are worried about what the housing development will mean for the area.

“It’s too high-density and there will be no parking and a lot of traffic,” said Sharon McNamara, a frequent shopper at Oakbrook Village.

City officials, however, said the added residential units will have no traffic or parking impacts to the shopping center since a commercial building was removed to make room for the apartments. A traffic study actually showed less traffic for the center during peak hours, said Kenneth Rosenfield, city engineer.

Laguna Hills news April 14, 2016

Laguna Hills

Daily update ⋅ April 14, 2016



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The tired Laguna Hills Mall will get a few hundred new neighbors in a sweeping renovation

LaguanHills.com – The tired Laguna Hills Mall will get a few hundred new neighbors in a sweeping renovation that will turn the aging retail center inside-out and add 350 new apartments to the site.

Merlone Geier, the mall’s owner, has submitted to the city its initial plans for the site renovation. If the plans are approved, the remodel will begin next year and the new mall, renamed Five Lagunas, will reopen in 2017.

The mall will nearly double in size, according to the plans, mostly due to the addition of luxury apartments and a six-level parking structure.

“The addition of residential use provides vibrancy and a true walkable village,” said Scott McPherson, executive managing director of Merlone Geier, in an email.

The renovation can’t come soon enough. Last year, the mall reported a 32 percent vacancy rate in its fourth quarter, according to CoStar, a commerical real estate data provider. The mall also got a B- grade in Green Street Advisors’ 2015 U.S. Mall Outlook, putting it at the lower end of Orange County malls, half of which scored A’s.

The renovation will steer the mall toward a lifestyle center, a concept seen in other Orange County retail centers. The Irvine Spectrum, Bella Terra and The Outlets at Orange are all examples of developers tapping a wide range of options – including residential units, dining, retail and entertainment – to lure more customers.

The plan for Laguna Hills Mall would gut 40 percent of the center – a stretch of space between the former Sears building and JCPenney. The retail space will grow only slightly by 8,831 square feet – to 878,183 square feet from 869,352 square feet – due to the aforementioned razing, records show. A six-story parking structure will be added on the southwest side, along Calle De La Louisa.

The renderings show a trendy makeover for the mall built in 1973. Details include:

• Opening up the indoor mall to the outdoors, with the addition of a one-acre “Sycramore Park” near JCPenney. The park will include a river-like water feature and a boardwalk effect between retailers near Macy’s. Living plant walls will be added to exterior walls.

• Wood, metal and glass give an updated look to the exteriors – including a luxury movie theater, which will overlook Sycamore Park.

• Retailers and dining establishments will have varying designs and architecture – lending itself to a downtown feeling rather than a uniformly designed mall.

• Merlone Geier is also considering a market/food hall, similar to the Anaheim Packing House.

To get people back to the center, Merlone Geier will have to secure unique tenants – especially since it’s sandwiched between two powerhouses, the Irvine Spectrum and the Shops at Mission Viejo, said Greg Stoffel, a retail analyst in Irvine.

“There’s some formidable competition,” he said. “You can’t duplicate too much between those centers, or you end up at the end of the day being smaller and not as good. They need to get a variety of tenants who aren’t in either of those centers.”

The owners said they’ll get as many as 40 new tenants but are keeping some familiar names, such as anchors Nordstrom Rack, Macy’s and JCPenney. Many of the outlying dining and retail spots, such as BJ’s Restaurant, will stay as well.

Judging by the site plans, there are plenty of spots for new tenants with the addition of seven unattached buildings in the surrounding parking lot and nine on the mall property, the latter of which includes four new anchors.

The size of the new anchor spots ranges from about 30,000 square feet up to 80,000 square feet. Stoffel suggested that medium box retailers – such as T.J. Maxx – could snatch up the spaces in the 30,000- to 50,000-square-foot range.

The center will need to have a regional draw, since Laguna Hills Mall demographics aren’t quite the same as its neighbors, Stoffel said.

The neighborhood’s average household income within three miles is $96,200. At the nearby Shops at Mission Viejo, the income average jumps to $128,000, and Irvine Spectrum is at $106,000, Stoffel said.

The average age within 3 miles of the center is 43 – the second highest behind Westfield Palm Desert out of 75 major centers Stoffel follows between San Diego and Ventura.

Merlone Geier agrees tenant mix is key.

“Our goal is to create a village with a mix of tenants that can only be found at Five Lagunas,” McPherson said.

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Geek Squad Trades In Volkswagen Beetle for Toyota Prius

LagunaHills.com – Geek Squad is ditching its signature Volkswagen Beetle "Geekmobiles" for the 2016 Toyota Prius C.
Geek Squad, Best Buy's tech support unit, said today it will update its fleet with more than 1,000 Prius C hybrids, each branded with a redesigned logo. Best Buy spokeswoman Paula Baldwin said about 700 of the cars will enter the fleet immediately, and the rest will be added later in the year. The cars will remain in the lineup for 48 months or until they reach 65,000 miles, she said.

Ms. Baldwin said Best Buy chose the Prius over "a handful of different options" in large part due to its fuel efficiency. She said a new Prius C, EPA rated at an estimated 53 mpg in the city, will have 50% fewer carbon emissions than the Beetle over the course of its life, helping Best Buy hit its target of cutting its carbon emissions 45% by 2020.
Ms. Baldwin said Geek Squad's negotiations with Toyota for new Geekmobiles began before news of Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal broke in September, though she said the German automaker's scandal did affect the speed at which Best Buy decided to leave the Beetle behind.

"While we've never used a diesel-powered vehicle, we did accelerate plans to transition the Geekmobile to both protect the Geek Squad brand reputation and move to a more efficient vehicle," Ms. Baldwin wrote in an email.
The Beetle was Geek Squad's car of choice since Best Buy, the world's largest electronics retailer, expanded the brand nationally in 2004.
Toyota's partnership with Geek Squad comes as sales of the Prius have waned this year in the face of cheap gasoline prices and soaring demand for crossovers and SUVs. Toyota has sold 31,936 Prius vehicles in the U.S. this year through March, a decline of 21% from the same period of 2015.

"This partnership provides Toyota with an opportunity to expose the Prius C to thousands of new customers from coast to coast each and every day," said Doug Coleman, Toyota national marketing manager for advanced technology vehicles, in a statement.
The Geekmobile switch comes as Geek Squad expands its offerings beyond technology repair and troubleshooting into installation, setup and other tech-related services.

"Today's Geek Squad agents are more likely to help clients with a new home theater experience, improve Wi-Fi performance or install a security solution than they are to fix the family computer," Geek Squad Chief Inspector Nate Brauer said in a statement. "The new Geekmobile and refreshed logo reflect how we continue to evolve along with technology."
Geek Squad estimates its 20,000 agents drive its fleet of Geekmobiles 12.6 million miles per year. The Prius vehicles in its fleet are authorized for service at local Toyota dealerships, Ms. Baldwin said.

Laguna Hills Residents Protest Cell Tower They Say Was Illegally Approved

Laguna Hills, CA – More than 100 upset homeowners gathered at a town hall in Laguna Hills Tuesday evening to protest a planned cell phone tower in their neighborhood that they say was illegally approved.

The residents say their homeowner association acted in bad faith by secretly negotiating with Verizon Wireless to erect a cell phone tower near their 900-unit community. Last week, the city approved the permit, they said.

“The [HOA] needed a two-thirds vote, they needed to send out ballots,” resident Maria Tagarao said. “Ballots were never sent out … It’s outrageous.”

The protesters are the latest in a long string of activists to protest cell towers in Southern California communities.

To draw attention to their cause, protesters hired a blimp lit in neon green, displaying a ticker that read, “Illegal land lease???”

Laguna Hills resident Larry Fleming said he hoped the attention would convince Verizon to reconsider the deal.

“We’re hoping that Verizon recognizes that the community is not happy with it,” he said. “Hopefully Verizon will find a way to work with the association and find a way to back out of this.”

Farmers’ market—was it the Old Towne Orange one? Irvine? Laguna Hills?

Laguna Hills, California – Some years ago, I was at a farmers’ market—was it the Old Towne Orange one? Irvine? Laguna Hills? Can’t remember—when I came across an empanada maker. A guy and girl chatted me up and gave me their card, and I bought a few. The empanadas were spectacular: golden crusts, awesome fillings, with knots stretching across each like the most elaborate angler’s loop ever created and a blindingly potent chimichurri on the side. I promised to get in touch . . . and I never did.

Cut to earlier this year, when I was walking down Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, ready to pig out at Penguin Cafe, when I saw a new business next door: Sergio’s Empanadas. Lo and behold, inside were the same empanadas I had enjoyed during my halcyon farmers’ market days—except now with more offerings. In addition to the traditional Argentine ones I had previously tasted, such as carne (olives, raisins and sweet ground beef) and prosciutto, there was a mushroom one (tart with shallots) and another that did a great impression of a chicken pot pie, the gravy inside steaming and sticky. The sweet potato empanada was too hippie for my tastes, but my wife ate it up as if it were a special at the Stand. And the dulce de leche dessert variety was the perfect finisher, oozing Patagonia’s version of caramel and freshened up with bananas. Discovering Sergio’s anew was a delight—as was finding out it also sells frozen empanadas, with instructions on how to reheat them at home.

Laguna Beach too far for you to travel? You can still buy owner Sergio Ciba’s empanadas at farmers’ markets—current spots are in Anaheim Hills, Laguna Beach and Laguna Niguel—but a trip to the mothership to get some fresh-from-the-oven empanadas, followed by a walk down to the beach, is as perfect an Orange County spring weekday as hitting San Onofre at sunrise with no surfers whatsoever.

Cost of Living Comparison: Laguna Hills, California

Laguna Hills, CA – A salary of $130,000 in Laguna Hills, California should increase to $172,765 in Sunnyvale, California

Laguna Hills
U.S. Avg.
Cost of Living Indexes Laguna Hills Sunnyvale
Overall 190.6 253.3
Food 107.7 118.1
Housing 365.4 555.1
Utilities 111.2 123.7
Transportation 114.6 112.6
Health 107.8 113.9
Miscellaneous 103.6 102.1
100=national average
Sunnyvale is
more expensive than Laguna Hills.

is the biggest factor in the cost of living difference.

Housing is
more expensive in Sunnyvale.

Historic preservation of Aliso Viejo Ranch hits another roadblock

Laguna Hill, CA – City Councilman Ross Chun has seen plans for development at the Aliso Viejo Ranch site fail for the past 12 years.

The 7.7-acre ranch and its five original structures – a barn, a bunkhouse and three sheds – are the last remaining vestige of the Moulton Ranch, purchased by Lewis Moulton in 1895. The 22,000-acre ranch covered what today encompasses South County cities, including Aliso Viejo, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Laguna Woods.

The county gave the ranch to AVCA in 1998 but found itself unable to decide on an economically viable development plan, so the city assumed control of it in 2006.

A decade ago, Aliso Viejo Ranch seemed destined for historic preservation. Five years ago, the land looked like it would be home to a $19 million community center that would house the Boys and Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley.

In the past year, the City Council has returned its focus to preservation, but three design plans failed to meet council members’ expectations when presented Wednesday. The council voted 4-0 to reject designs by Thirtieth Street Architects. City Councilman Phil Tsunoda was absent for the presentation and vote.

“When the city took control of the ranch, their comment was that AVCA had sat on the property for far too long,” said Chun, who also served on the Aliso Viejo Community Association board. “The city said it would develop there, but here we are 10 years later and it’s in the same state..”

Momentum had been building for the ranch’s preservation. After deciding a year ago to scrap the community center development plan, the city has held three workshops to gather community and City Council input on what design elements would be of most use to residents.

Thirtieth Street Architects – which got a $50,000 contract with the city in November – attended the most recent workshop in January. The three plans presented Wednesday illustrated various levels of preservation.

In one plan, three of the buildings would merely be stabilized to prevent further decay. In another, the buildings would be refurbished for everyday use. In the third plan, the buildings would be razed to make way for a new, 14,000-square-foot central building.

Cost estimates for each project are $16.4 million, $16.2 million and $19.5 million, respectively, according to a report by Thirtieth Street Architects.

Mayor Mike Munzing and City Councilman Bill Phillips expressed dismay over the cost estimates – the scrapped plan community center plan’s $19 million price tag was the primary point of objection. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Harrington and Chun said the three plans lacked key elements discussed in the workshops.

Harrington and Chun noted a lack of dedicated spaces for a teaching garden, a working ranch and outdoor educational spaces, all of which were discussed at a workshop with the council and Thirtieth Street Architects in January.

“When I look at these plans, I see parking lots and a big building,” Chun said. “I don’t see most of the things we talked about.”

Harrington said he felt his time visiting other refurbished historic sites, like the Irvine Ranch Historic Park, and discussing potential uses for the ranch in previous workshops was wasted.

Jim Wilson, a partner with Thirtieth Street Architects, said the plans may not accurately explain the project and that his group can come back before the council to discuss how the site uses can be consolidated and how to move forward.

Harrington said if the revised plans are unsatisfactory, the City Council may be brought to a point where it must decide whether it will “fish or cut bait.”

“If you look at the history of that property, many organizations have failed to move forward without breaking the bank,” Harrington said. “If you can’t resolve that, that leaves one of two options: sell it or leave it an open piece of land that does nothing but sit there until those buildings disintegrate.”