An exit Q & A with City Manager Ken Frank

Retiring City Manager Ken Frank sat with reporters Monday afternoon at City Hall reflecting on his 31 years in that position as he answered questions.

Today will be his final day on the job. John Pietig will take over on Monday, Dec 13.

Frank’s Monday questioners were Claudia Koerner (News Post/OC Register), Rita Robinson (Independent) and StuNewsLaguna. The following is a compilation of some of the questions – Part II

Part I appears below for those who may not have seen same…


Q: What made you be able to last so long on the job?

A: Reasonable and pragmatic Councilmembers. Our Councilmembers are not as interested in seeking higher office as is the case elsewhere. Ours are very interested in what’s best for the City.

Q: How did you go about trying to correct the sewer deficiencies that existed when you arrived on the job?

A: There had been ten years of neglect of the sewer system. The dollars that had been spent by those Councils went toward sewer treatment and nothing on the sewer lines. That caused deterioration. We added a sewer service fee in 1981, which was very small – two or three dollars. Money didn’t come in fast enough and we had more than our fair share of sewer spills. That fee is around $30 now.

Q: How significant, money-wise, has the Montage been for the City

A: It has far exceeded my estimations. It now generates about $4 million annually that goes directly to the City coffers as well as provide a larger percentage of the funding for the Business Improvement District and a large amount for the school district. The income from the Montage has allowed us to improve our public infrastructure. The Montage is our biggest single source for sales tax revenue.

Q: How will the City handle the concerns over the increasing demands placed on city coffers from future pension payouts?

A: It has to start with Councilmembers. The public service unions influence campaigns through direct contributions, endorsements by advertising, working on campaigns and the like. There will have to be a push by elected officials at all levels in the state. I think it’s going to change in Laguna Beach in the next six months if the cities around us make the changes they anticipate. Entry level employees will be where it starts.

Q: How prepared is John Pietig when it comes to replacing you?

A: He’s better prepared than I was when I started. He will have more experience that I had when I began. He has been here for over nine years and he knows the territory and has more experience as an assistant.

Q: What are the most difficult decisions/situations that he will inherit from you?

A: The permanent solutions to the skateboarding and homeless issues. He has been spearheading those efforts, so he’s well prepared.

The community has not been successful in getting a handle on substance abuse in the city. It’s a significant issue – more than people think.

Q: What do you hope to see here over the next 10 or 20 years?

A: We will see the improvements for the animal shelter, Heisler Park, the fire stations and a long-range sewer program. The undergrounding of the utilities in the canyon is beginning now that we have a source for funding most of the costs. The new lifeguard headquarters is essential and we need to have a permanent solution for our homeless issue. They need to have a daytime place for their protection.

Q: How much will you be paid in retirement?

A: I am really not sure. I’ve been trying for three months to get the information from PERS – the actual amount. They are now looking much closer at every retiring employee’s final pay rate – things like when the raises actually occurred and that all requires verification. I do have a firm estimate. It starts with 2.5 per cent for forty years. 31 with Laguna Beach, four in Berkley and five at the League of California Cities. I have no complaints. [That will be 100% of his final salary once the Public Employment Retirement System has its final amount.]

Q: What’s next?

A: I’ve never taken a full two-week vacation in 30 years. We’ll be traveling to visit family and friends all over the country for about six weeks. I’ll stay here for the week after John begins for the retirements of Carol [Bright] and John Gustafson then begin traveling.

He remarked:

I have spent a billion and a half of your money over the past 31 years. I am most happy to have spent $50 million acquiring some 300 acres of open space.

Part I – originally appeared Tuesday, Dec 7

Q: How did Laguna Beach appear to you when you were anticipating starting as the City Manager?

A: I came here from Berkley and saw things here as being similar to some degree. I knew Laguna to be environmentally interested and that was important to me. Both were communities of interested residents.

Q: Have the priorities of the City Council or the town changed since 1979?

A: I don’t think it really has changed that much. There has always been resident participation…

Q: What has been the biggest change over time as you see it?

A: The income level of families is much, much higher. When I arrived the majority of the city’s employees lived in the city. Not now.

Q: How is Laguna unique to you?

A: Open space – creating the Greenbelt. When you drive into town on Coast Highway or the Canyon, you know you’re in Laguna Beach. My goal from the start was to help the Council keep it the way it was.

Q: What’s your process when you know a contentious issue is coming before the Council?

A: When I see a hot issue on the agenda, I spend more time examining and editing the staff reports…I probably spend a much less role in specific things than the public would realize…I don’t have much patience for [staff] meetings.

Q: What would you consider to be your biggest disappointment?

A: The lack of a third story on the Glenneyre parking structure. That would have added 110 parking spaces where we need it the most.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Dec 3, 2010

Children’s Holiday Palette Exhibition – At its meeting on Monday, Nov 22, the Arts Commission reviewed 290 entries to the Children’s Holiday Palette Exhibition.  Twelve designs were selected for exhibition by artists:  Emily Becker, Alyssa Bashaw, Lucinda Becker, Kendall Cornell, Ryan Cortellessa, Natalia Hagopian, Jeannette Hunker, Claire Kelly, Brenna Merchant, Jade Misumi, Tatiana Moore, and Cade St. Clair.  The palettes will be on exhibit at City Hall through Jan 3, 2011.

City Hall Exhibition – This week, the Festival of Arts installed an exhibition of paintings from its permanent collection in City Hall.  The exhibit will be on display through March 18, 2011.

Permit Parking in the Diamond Street Area – Councilmembers recently received a letter from a resident on Diamond Street questioning why the temporary parking permit program at the bottom of Diamond Crestview was not still in effect.  When the Council adopted the parking restrictions on December 1, 2005, they were effective for four years until December 1, 2009.  While the City Manager has authority to extend it, given the significant reduction in construction in that neighborhood – as well as the City overall – there is really no justification for extending the parking permit beyond the four year period.

2011 Cultural Arts Funding Application – The City of Laguna Beach is currently accepting applications for Cultural Arts Funding. The application is available on the City’s website and must be submitted by Friday, February 4, 2011. This grant program is made possible from revenues of the Laguna Beach Business Improvement District.

Boardwalk Repaired – One month ago a portion of the Boardwalk was damaged by fire. The lumber needed for repair had to be custom cut and then treated, which took three weeks. The repairs were completed this week.

Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee –This week the Committee received a comprehensive report from the Police Department regarding the proposed skateboard regulations. The Police Chief’s report indicates that some of the Committee’s recommended policies already exist in the Vehicle Code, i.e., skateboarding is a pedestrian activity, skaters under 18 are supposed to wear helmets, etcetera, and that some of the Committee’s recommendations would be in conflict with provisions of the Vehicle Code.  The Committee voted to forward their Draft Proposed Ordinance together with the Police Department report to the City Council. The staff report and recommendations will likely be presented to the City Council in February. The Committee first considered this issue in May 2010 in response to a request from a resident to create regulations restricting skateboarding on streets with a certain grade and to limit allowable speeds.  Public hearings were held on July 22, 2010 and on September 23, 2010 to get input from the community.

Lifeguard Headquarters – The Coastal Commission has tentatively set the dates of January 12-14 to consider amended language to allow the Lifeguard Headquarters project to move forward.  The meeting will be held in Long Beach.  More information will be available when the Coastal Commission finalizes an agenda in early January.

Parking Permits Near Mozambique – The public hearing on this subject has been continued to the City Council meeting of Feb 15.  Additional time is needed to resolve implementation details of the parking permit proposal.


thank you Photo

Staff photos by Maggi Henrikson

Over 350 well-wishers attended a “Thank You Ken” cocktail party and reception hosted by Laguna’s City Councilmembers at [seven-degrees] after work Monday evening. The light-hearted affair included Lagunatics! performing one of their City Manager caricatures in song and genuinely chuckle-emitting comments by Councilmembers.



Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Nov 19, 2010

Deputy Director of Public Works – This position has been vacant since Bill Liebel retired.  We have completed a recruitment and did not find the perfect match.  We will be re-advertising and recruiting again for this vacancy.

Hedge Height Claim – There was a controversial hedge height claim on 10th Avenue in South Laguna.  The neighbors were not satisfied with the determination of Jim Docksetter and the matter will be going to the Design Review Board on January 13.

Executive Assistant to the City Manager and City Council – Leah Hall has been appointed to replace Carol Bright as the Executive Assistant to the City Manager and City Council.  Leah has worked for the City of Laguna Beach for more than 8 years in various capacities in the Police, Personnel, Public Works and Water Quality Departments.  She will take over for Carol towards the end of December.  Leah is married to Police Captain Mike Hall.

Ken Frank’s Top Ten Countdown

In his own words…

Top Ten City Accomplishments

City Accomplishment #1

Creating the Laguna Greenbelt


In December, I will be retiring as City Manager of Laguna Beach. Over the 31 years of my tenure, the City has progressed in numerous areas.  For the next ten weeks, I would like to share my perceptions of the City’s most significant accomplishments during the past three decades.  As in most “top ten” lists, we will start at the least important and gradually escalate to Number One – the most influential change in our community.

Number One on the list of City accomplishments over the last 30 years is:

Creating the Laguna Greenbelt.

James Dilley envisioned the concept of a greenbelt around Laguna Beach – a buffer zone that would protect Laguna’s unique geographic amenities, mitigate traffic and other problems associated with urban sprawl, and afford outdoor recreational opportunities to our residents.  Mr. Dilley passed away before he could see his vision fulfilled.

But starting in 1979, just before I showed up, the City Council had taken the first steps in creating the Laguna greenbelt.  In order to resolve litigation with the Rancho Palos Verdes Corporation, which owned 522 acres of open space between El Toro Road and Laguna Canyon Road known as Sycamore Hills, the City signed an agreement to buy the entire spread for about $7 million.  This historic pact had one flaw – the City had no money to pay for the property since Proposition 13 had significantly pared City revenue!  Within several years, we had negotiated a more favorable accord with Rancho Palos Verdes and developed 50 acres of the site along El Toro Road with high density housing to raise the money to pay for the property.  That housing is not visible from Laguna Canyon Road or from Laguna Lakes.

The City’s next acquisition occurred in 1986 when the City purchased the Bay View parcel for $635,000.  This 120 acre plot is located above Morningside Drive in Bluebird Canyon, stretching from Top of the World to Arch Beach Heights.  Acquisition of that entire slope ended attempts to develop a new hillside community in Bluebird Canyon.

The City’s next significant acquisition was Laguna Heights – a 471 acre parcel at the end of Alta Laguna Boulevard.  A U.S./Canadian company (Carma Sandling) had obtained approval from Orange County to raze the ridgetop and build 110 homes on this unincorporated site.  Laguna Beach challenged the developer and the County in court, leading to a settlement in which the City purchased the entire parcel for $4 million in 1988.  A State grant paid for half of the price.

About the same time, the City utilized State Park bonds to secure two other key parcels.  A nine acre parcel at the intersection of Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro Road was purchased from the Cortese family for $900,000.  The 194 acre DeWitt parcel – situated on the hillside and ridge above Laguna Canyon Road – was acquired for $2 million.  A few years later, the 22 acres along Laguna Canyon Road that had previously housed a horse stables was acquired from Oscar Taylor, ending any development opportunities along Laguna Canyon Road near El Toro.

Then in November of 1989, several thousand people walked along Laguna Canyon Road to Sycamore Hills to demonstrate against the building of 3,200 homes.  Thereafter, the City Council, the Irvine Company and environmental groups reached an accord that would preclude any housing in Laguna or Laurel Canyons.  The Irvine Company eventually parted with 2,000 acres of open space for roughly $45 million in City, County and State money.  Laguna voters approved a $20 million General Obligation Bond to contribute to the settlement.

Since the historic Laguna-Laurel acquisition, the City has continued to utilize local revenues and State grants to acquire open space.  In total, we have acquired 3,000 acres of open space in 40 major parcels.

These City owned properties are part of a 20,000 acre open space preserve, which includes Crystal Cove State Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.  From Newport Coast Drive to Aliso Creek, there is a continuous link of undeveloped open space.

Over thirty years in the making, the Laguna Greenbelt is a reality.

Kenneth Frank

City Manager

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Nov 12, 2010

Montage Recognized for Solid Waste Reduction Efforts – The Montage has received the state of California’s prestigious 2010 CalRecycle Waste Reduction Award for its successful programs.  The Montage works closely with the City’s waste hauler, Waste Management, and has implemented a Zero Waste program, which include on-site food waste processing. The Montage exemplifies outstanding environmental leadership by promoting sustainable management practices that have contributed to the City’s successful 65% solid waste diversion rate.

Street Resurfacing – This year’s $1.6 million resurfacing project is 95% completed. All paving and slurry application has been completed. Follow-up items such as clean up, corrective work and re-striping will continue through November. For a minor contract price adjustment of $10,000, the parking lots next to Fire Station 4, Alta Laguna Park, and Lang Park were included in the resurfacing.

Storm Drain Repair Project – In August, the City began construction on a $900,000 project to replace or line deteriorated storm drains pipes at 43 locations throughout the City. The project is now 90% completed.  All work will be done by the end of November.

High Winds – Only one reported property damage incident related to the wind on Thursday.  A large City owned Pine tree in Jahraus Park fell and seriously damaged a car parked on private property.  

Orange County Transportation Commission – This week, Mayor Pearson attended the Mayors Selection Committee.  She voted for Peter Herzog for a seat on OCTA and he prevailed by a 7-5 vote.

Village Entrance Project – The Planning Commission accepted public comments on the EIR and provided comments the EIR consultant.  The consultant needs to respond to the comments and return to the Planning Commission – probably in January – for adoption of the EIR.

Night Work Loma Terrace & Third St at Mermaid Ave – Monday night, a video inspection crew will be setting up to review the condition of a large, high capacity, sewer line. The work must be done when wastewater flow is at its lowest point. Third Street will be closed on the uphill side from about 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.  Additionally, the crew will be on Loma Terrace at Mermaid. That area will be passable.  A generator powering the video equipment may be operating during the inspections.

Juried Fine Art Exhibition – On Thursday, Nov 4, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson announced the winners of the Juried Fine Art Competition.  The following winners were announced:  1st Ellen Rose; 2nd Annette Wimmer; 3rd Jennifer Griffiths; Honorable Mention:  El Esquerra, Beverly Factor, Kay Flierl, Naomi Shachar, Uriu Noriho and Gary Zuercher.  The program was funded through artist submission fees and the lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach.

Ken Frank’s Top Ten Countdown

In his own words…

Top Ten City Accomplishments

City Accomplishment #2

Creating Parks, Trails and other Recreational Amenities for Laguna Residents


In December, I will be retiring as City Manager of Laguna Beach.  Over the 31 years of my tenure, the City has progressed in numerous areas.  For the next ten weeks, I would like to share my perceptions of the City’s most significant accomplishments during the past three decades.  As in most “top ten” lists, we will start at the least important and gradually escalate to Number One – the most influential change in our community.

Number Two on the list of City accomplishments over the last 30 years is: Creating Parks, Trails and other Recreational Amenities for Laguna Residents.

In 1979, Heisler Park was the City’s preeminent and largest public park other than the sandy beaches.  Boat Canyon Park, which includes the Little League baseball field, and Bluebird Canyon Park were the only other facilities of note.  Most youth and adult sport teams were relegated to sharing overtaxed School District play areas.  Since then, the City has embarked on an ambitious expansion of recreational facilities, which primarily serve Laguna Beach residents instead of tourists.  These new facilities include:

Moulton Meadows Park – Dedicated in 1987, this ten-acre facility at the top of Arch Beach Heights has a full size soccer field, two lighted tennis courts, a tot lot, basketball courts, a restroom, walking paths and picnic tables.

Lang Park – Built in 1990 on part of the former Aliso Elementary School site at Wesley and Coast Highway, this park has a soccer/grass play field, a tot lot, a tennis court and restrooms.  The City also has a small community center in a former school building.

Alta Laguna Park – Created in 1991 at the north end of Alta Laguna Boulevard, this park provides six tennis courts, a baseball/soccer field, a basketball court, a tot lot, restrooms, picnic areas and a walking path.

Expansion Of El Morro School Playfield – The City and the School District cooperated to finance a significant expansion of the playfield at El Morro School.  Soccer, baseball and softball teams now utilize this enhanced resource.

High School Swimming Pool – Replacing a much smaller, dilapidated plunge, the new competition size pool is shared from dawn to nighttime by school teams and the public.

Bark Park – Along Laguna Canyon Road, the City maintains a large, grassy field for dogs to romp off leash.  The Bark Park was the first such facility in Orange County.  It has since been copied by other communities.

Browns’ Park, Crescent Bay Point Park, and Pacific Avenue Mini Park – These small parks provide a respite from the hectic pace of daily life.  Each offers expansive views of the coastline and ocean.

Treasure Island Park – While most visitors to this oceanfront, landscaped area are visitors to town, residents enjoy working along the bluff top and picnicking at the tables overlooking the ocean.

Arch Beach Heights View Park – The City’s newest park will open [next week].  Envisioned mainly as a resource for people in the immediate neighborhood, it contains a walking path through open space and benches with spectacular views.

Frontage Road Park And Park Avenue Park – These two additional pocket parks are scheduled for construction in 2011.

In addition to these traditional parks, which are irrigated and landscaped, the City has acquired 3,000 acres of open space, which contain trails and viewpoints.  Most of that acreage has been leased to Orange County to enlarge Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Park, both of which have opened in the last 20 years, thereby transforming private ownership into a significant recreational opportunity for our residents.

Council’s meeting Tuesday night will seek an exemption to water quality board’s tentative ban on 4th of July fireworks

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson’s last meeting in the catbird seat would seem to hold the promise of a long evening with six items that might engender much public testimony.

Of special concern to those who donated money last year to save the fireworks on the Fourth of July is Item # 21. (See below)

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. and can be viewed both on the City’s website and Cox Cable Channel 30.

A quick look at the six agenda items:

Item 17: The employment agreement for new City Manager John Pietig will be presented for approval by the Council.

Item 21: The City will seek an exemption to a tentative order by the Regional Water Quality Control Board that would ban our 4th of July fireworks.

Item 22: This agenda bill would put more teeth in the City’s bite to enforce the five-hour parking limitation on city streets for commercial and RV vehicles.

Item 23: The Festival of Arts is requesting to amend its lease on the city park it occupies to include the hillside above the Irvine Bowl and to relocate the Festival’s façade.

Item 25: The City wants to increase parking ticket fines by $3. The State will be taking more of the parking ticket fine revenues in all cities.

Item 26: The Council will consider studying the possibility of adding to the time leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches.

Updates from the Laguna Beach City Manager’s office

Released: Nov 5, 2010

Online Public Records Search – Enhancements have been made to the City Clerk and Community Development online public records search feature.  The system is now available to Apple computer users.  Along with Microsoft Internet Explorer, the system is now compatible with Mozilla Firefox, a common web browser used by Apple computer users.  Modifications have also been made that will increase the speed and response time of the system.  To access the online public records search system please visit the City of Laguna Beach website at

New Stormwater Monitoring on Main Beach The new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit includes additional monitoring compliance measures.  The County of Orange is in the early stages of setting up a monitoring station on the south end of the Main Beach boardwalk.  The trashcan-sized enclosure will be staged there only during the rainy season.  The goal is to obtain as many samples that accurately depict the water quality of storm water discharging to the beach during rainstorms.  The new mandate engages a higher level of attention given to year-round storm drain and street cleaning practices for all permit holders.

Street Resurfacing – The major slurry seal work will be completed on Monday.  Follow-up items such as clean up, corrective work and re-striping will continue through November.  Since August, over 5,000 tons of asphalt and slurry seal have been used to pave 125 public roadways as part of the City’s most extensive street resurfacing project. The project involved coordination with trash collection, utility companies, the Hospital, the South Laguna Post Office, fire stations, parks, schools, and thousands of residences and businesses.

Arch Beach Heights Park Dedication – The ribbon cutting will be held on Monday, November 15 at noon at the park site.  Parking is extremely limited.  It would be best to park by Moulton Meadows Park and walk the couple of blocks on Cortez to get to the site.

Code Enforcement Staff Changes – Today Mariann McNaughton is retiring after 21 years as a parking officer and as a code enforcement officer with the City.  Her code enforcement functions will be taken over by Tony Farr.  For the last two years, Mr. Farr has been the Cashier in the Finance Department.  He has previously worked for the Orange County Airport and the Orange County Superior Court.  He has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Illinois.

Red Palm Weevil – Today the Council Chambers was totally, completely packed with people to hear about the red palm weevil.  This bug was found in two palm trees in North Laguna.  It is the first time it has been found in the United States.  Federal, State and County agricultural experts are still examining trees and determining the best course of action for controlling or eliminating this pest.

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