2018 Election: Arts Alliance Forum

By LAURA BUCKLE and BARBARA DIAMOND

The Laguna Beach Beach Arts Alliance hosted a candidates’ forum on Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse.

About 80 people attended the forum. The mood was mellow, perhaps due to the coffee and donuts served before the forum began or the demeanor of former Mayor Jane Egly, who moderated the forum.

Candidates Peter Blake, Ann Christoph, Jorg AKA Comrade Dubin, Toni Iseman, Sue Kempf, Cheryl Kinsman, Lorene Laguna, Judie Mancuso, Allison Mathews and Paul Merritt were given one minute to answer questions and microphones were cut off when they exceeded the time limit. When it happened, the speaker took it in good part. 

Question 1: What is the main reason or reasons you decided to run for City Council?

Iseman: “We have to take a look at how our artists are being treated. I ran into a woman who was at the Sawdust Festival for years, and she couldn’t afford to live here anymore because her apartment went to Airbnb, so she moved and, therefore, didn’t qualify anymore for the Sawdust.” 

Iseman also referred to the impressive amount of money available to the arts through the Business Improvement District that the City Council distributes. (Microphone shut off)

Kempf: “I am retired now. When I was asked by a lot of people to run for City Council, I considered it very carefully, but I feel if you have the luxury of time, you should volunteer. I enjoy volunteering. I have a lot to add.”

Kinsman: “I’m a certified public accountant, and the reason I am running has everything to do with money. I am opposed to the sales tax [Measure P], which I think hurts our local businesses. I’m opposed to a bond for undergrounding in the canyon.

I believe that money that needs to be spent can be spent within our budget. [The City has] $100 million dollars a year. We have a $96 million budget right now, where’s the other $4 million? I have been on the Council before, so I don’t need any start-up education. I can do it and I have run to do it.”

During Kinsman‘s reply, S.T.O.P founder Jennifer Zeiter raised a banner and was advised that no political signs were allowed at the forum. 

Laguna: “If you’re happy with the way that the City has treated artists, then vote for the incumbents. I am here to represent the voice of the people, to represent the voices who are sitting before me.”

Mancuso: “My neighbors recruited me. ‘Judie you gotta run for city council.” So I have stepped up. There is a lot of paralysis and there’s money spent that shouldn’t be.”

Mathews: “Quite honestly, I’m getting a little tired of saying this is an artists’ town when we don’t support [them]. The City is really not willing to put its money where its mouth is. We do not have affordable housing for artists. We do not have affordable housing and the disparity [between] people with homes and people who rent and people who can’t even afford to be in Laguna Beach is ridiculous! So I’m kinda disgusted with the whole, “oh yeah we are an artist community, let’s support the artists, let’s do something, but let’s not house them.” 

Merritt: “Some of [my] reasons are no sales tax increase, we don’t need the 12.2 percent compounded rate increase, which will take up all of our available credit. Secondly, the town is changing in a direction that a lot of us don’t find comfortable. The homeless element and promotion of Laguna as a homeless magnet is not a reason that anybody would want to not get in this race.” 

Merritt also would like to slow down traffic on Coast Highway. 

“Secondly, we have positive things we can do like the estuary [project] in South Laguna.”

Blake: ”I’m running because, I have to say it, I am sick and tired of the way this town is being run by the same old people. I want something fresh. I want new ideas. That is why I am running.”

Christoph: “I am running as part of long continuum that I started in 1971 when I came to Laguna Beach, and we started on the South Laguna General Plan as a community and a donation to the County of Orange. I think that our City could be doing more with leadership that will promote positive projects that people will really love.”

Dubin: “I’m here for a pretty specific reason and that is the cultural heritage of Laguna Beach, which in my mind has been slipping away for a lot of years. The City was founded by artists. We call ourselves an art colony, and yet every year, I see more and more a diminished vital, working artist population here. I’ve read the Cultural Arts Plan, it didn’t mention artists’ studios, which we don’t have enough of. It’s all frosting. It’s all fluff, and it’s time to change and get some things done.”

Question 2: Where do you encourage development of artist/work live housing?

Kempf: “We have to look for opportunities for people to purchase land around town and reconstitute [it]. I think we need to look at some people who can purchase land and do that on an independent basis [so] we can facilitate. The studies say you need 30-plus units to be effective.”

Kinsman: “We know that people are always looking at the canyon, and the canyon people are not happy with that.”

Laguna: “There are so many unpermitted – and I am an example of that with my artist studio – unpermitted structures out there [Laguna Canyon] that can be re-zoned and accepted with warmth into the City. My art studio is one of those that after a long battle was re-zoned, but it cost a lot of money. So that’s one idea, repurpose the buildings we have out there. (Microphone shut off)

Mancuso: “Affordable housing is a very popular thing in the state of California right now, and there are many developers making money off these projects. It’s not a matter of can this exist. It can. It is about the right project. No, you can’t encroach on the environment. You can’t dump in the stream. Stop talking about it and just do it.”

Mathews:  “First of all there is land, there’s land behind Mission Hospital; there is some land in the canyon that we can build on. We can take commercial places right now that are empty and turn them into cool lofts – the village can be the renters.” 

Blake: “The answer is simple. It’s in the canyon. We are going to put houses there. We are going to put studios there, and we are going to put small businesses there. We are going to take a piece of that canyon, and we are going to make it serve the residents of this community. There’s plenty of open space out there.”

2018 Election forum

Click on photo for larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

Forum at Laguna Playhouse

Question 3: What portion of the cultural arts plan do you think should take priority?

Kinsman: “I think what artists need most is a place to meet. They also need a place to perform. So, more sites where they can meet and perform.”

Laguna: “AEA has taken care of a lot of this with the Cultural Assessment Plan.”

Mancuso: “I think proliferating areas for art is a priority.” She also favors fostering other mediums such as concerts. (Microphone shut off)

Mathews:  “I think there is a lot here for the visual artists, but there’s not much for other kinds of art.” 

Christoph: “The highest priority, I think, is the housing issue, it’s affordable housing in general and affordable housing for artists. Lastly, I’d like to look at Laguna Beach as a city of the arts. It’s not a downtown of the arts. I’d like to see our neighborhoods benefit more from the arts program and to spread that inspiration throughout town.”

Dubin:  “We have to quit being reactive and kick in with the canyon down the road.” 

Iseman: “Well, the consultant that we’re talking about [AES that consulted on Arts Plan] – we have had a lot of bad ones – was a really good team, and they came to the conclusion that we don’t need a facility. We have enough; we just have to manage it. 

If we have to build something, we would hemorrhage money, and we would take away from the facilities that we have. We need to make Forum Theatre handicapped accessible. There are places for us to use that we are not using and that’s important.”

Question 4: People are talking about changes, how do you make changes, how do you force a change?

Kinsman: “We need more police. We need to manage our budget more effectively. We need to stop doing things that are wonderful and nice and get back to the basics of financial management. We can do this without increasing sales tax or borrowing money.”

Mancuso: “To make change, the first thing you have to do is identify what needs changing. So you reach out to your stakeholders – and your stakeholders are your community – and you ask what are the priorities? Once you’ve identified the priorities, you make a list and you prioritize that list. 

“Then you have to assign resources and figure out what it takes to get a particular thing done. Do you have the money to get it done? You have project plans and these project plans have the time, the resources and the money that it takes and you keep checking until it’s finished.”

Mathews: “You gotta want change. Running as an outsider we can do change.”

Merritt: He suggested the City should build bridges and work with Cox Cable, Caltrans and the Coastal Commission.

Blake: “To make a change, we need get the politicians and the bureaucrats out. We need to make sure we don’t re-elect the incumbents that are pretty much going to give us no change, just lip service.”

Christoph: “First you need to have the ideas that you want to change. You need to prioritize, build consensus, speak out in the council meetings and make sure [if elected], you have at least two other council members bought into this. Once you have that, you can direct staff regarding budget on what they should do and then check they have actually done it.”

Dubin: “Change City Hall, first and foremost. Streamline the process for people that are trying to develop projects through design review. We have to stop being the City that says it can’t be done or being reactive when people bring ideas into city hall. It’s time to end that process.

“When people talk about consensus, I hear this kick the can down the road, have another study or come up with a great mediocre solution. This is all that it’s going to take to change.”

Iseman: “I have sat with the City Manager and until he knows that I can count to three [council majority], things aren’t going to change. We are spending an inordinate amount of time with a handful of architects who are building $20 million dollar houses on the sand that get a $1 millon dollar fine immediately because they’re done wrong. I knew it was done wrong, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention,” (Microphone shut off)

Kempf: ”We really need to have mixed use spaces, retail on the bottom, housing on the second floor. It’s great for residents and the business that we have in town. We need to revitalize our town and the way we do that is by relaxing some of our land use requirements.”

Question 5: Tourism is vital to the success of nonprofit art organizations. How would you balance the needs of the arts and the residents?

Mancuso: “The tourists add to all of our businesses, whether restaurants, T-shirt shops, or art galleries, I think we need to make it pleasant for visitors to be here at every level. 

“We have to address our parking and our traffic issues. I know that as a resident, I have missed appointments and gone without groceries for days, because I don’t want to get in the middle of it all. We have to make our town easy to be in and to get around in and enjoyable. I think that will bring people here that will spend money and also that will accommodate residents.”

 Mathews: “I don’t think we are any different than a lot of other seaside communities when it comes to traffic and parking issues in the summer time. It’s bad during tourist season for sure, but it’s temporary. There is land on the parameter of Laguna Beach where parking could be created and tourists could park and then get the free trolleys into town so they don’t bring their cars in.”

Merritt: “The city of Palm Springs started their film festival 15 years ago and now it’s an international sensation. It draws people from everywhere and it does not impact the residents.” 

He suggested that events for locals, including the arts community, could be held in the spring, fall and winter and leave the summer to the tourists. 

Blake: “I just can’t seem to find a correlation between a cultural visitor and how I would have to balance that with a resident. A cultural visitor is the ultimate visitor a coastal community can get, the person who is coming here and seeing an event at the Laguna Art Museum is a person that is staying in a nice hotel and spending money here. 

“The problem we have is the low-end tourists who are clogging our streets, not spending money, and leaving their trash here. Those people are here because of poor planning over the years and a City Council that somehow or another blocked really great businesses from coming in.”

Christoph: “I believe that the tourists love our town for the residential quality. I don’t think there’s a conflict there. If there are places that the residents love to live in, that’s what tourists love to experience too. They like to come and say ‘Wow, I wish I could live here. Isn’t this charming? Isn’t this beautiful?’ 

“I think anything that we do to make our neighborhoods better gives back to us three fold. The charm of our community is what the tourists enjoy so I would like to see more emphasis on this.”

 Dubin: “I don’t agree we have to necessarily be spending a million and a half dollars a year [BID allocation to Visit Laguna Beach] advertising the fact that we are a tourist town. We need to spend that on working towards getting back our cultural heritage.”

Iseman: “I don’t object to Visit Laguna Beach spending money to bring people into Laguna Beach, if they’re advertising in Sunset Magazine and not on the internet saying free parking in South Laguna. 

“People without their cars are usually the ones who are not causing grief.”

Kempf: “We need to enhance our reputation as an arts community to the outside world, but we do need to do something about parking. It’s a core problem. When we look at the statistics of people coming to Laguna for arts events, they are highly educated people. Day-trippers are something else. The people who come to the arts have money and spend money. When we talk about bringing people into town, we need to target the right people”.

Kinsman: “I think what we need to do for both residents and tourists is finalize our downtown. There are a lot of empty shops, and it doesn’t look good. Our downtown specific plan right now is too restrictive. We are not allowed to have chains and let’s face it, chains are the ones who can afford the higher rent right now. 

“When we [residents] want to shop, we don’t go downtown because the things that we buy you can’t get in our downtown area. We need to bring our residents downtown so we have to have more liberal rules and more parking. (Microphone shut off)

Laguna: “We need to listen to the Laguna Beach Arts Commission and Visit Laguna Beach. They are the organizations that the council needs to listen to.” 

Published answers, including paraphases, are limited to those that responded directly to the questions asked.