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Election 2018: Oct 8 forum focused on seniors issues

By ALEXIS AMARADIO and BARBARA DIAMOND

The Laguna Beach Seniors Candidates Forum held October 8 at the Susi Q focused on issues important to the city’s older population. The format presented by the League of Women Voters differed from other forums. With some exceptions, questions were answered by one candidate. However, some questions were rephrased or duplicated and answered by different candidates, including Peter Blake, Ann Christoph, Jorg Dubin, Toni Iseman, Sue Kempf, Cheryl Kinsman, Lorene Laguna, Judie Mancuso, Alison Mathews and Paul Merritt.

Question: What role do you believe the city should play in disaster preparedness as it relates to homebound seniors?

Toni Iseman: “We have an amazing [Certified Emergency Response Team] ready to go.” 

Jorg: “Obviously the city plays a major role in that, as the fire department plays a part in it.” 

Question: Laguna Beach seniors comprise 51 percent of the resident population over the age of 55. Currently there is minimal affordable senior housing as well as market rate senior housing or assisted living facilities. If elected, what steps would you take to mitigate this lack of housing?

Christoph: “Nothing pencils [out] in Laguna Beach. So the city has to take more aggressive action in affordable housing. We have an Affordable Housing Task Force which meets once a month.” 

She said the city has to find a way to make sure that the Accessory Dwelling Units, dictated by the state, are really for the most needy of the people who could use them.

Kempf: “The first thing is accessory dwelling [ADUs]. There was a state law passed two years ago. It is a great opportunity for seniors to get a live-in caregiver or to rent their home and have a caregiver live there. The next thing is public/private partnership. “What we need is someone to donate land or the city to donate land and get a public/private partnership with developers. It’s a win-win if we can get land donated, someone to build on it, and someone in there to operate it or help operate it. 

“Thirdly, I would like to see housing in the downtown. I am not talking about building big buildings: people say oh that Sue, she wants to big buildings downtown. No. I am talking about second stories that are currently office space that can be converted to housing. 

“For example, there is a building next to Slice pizza that is a three-story building: on the bottom is the kitchen remodeling store, but the second and third floors are office spaces and they are about 500 square feet. Those can be converted into housing for seniors. That way, seniors can walk around, go to the grocery store, and there are restaurants. It is a good pedestrian environment for seniors.”

Question: Laguna Beach Seniors is a separate nonprofit organization separate and apart from the city. [Laguna Beach] is unlike other cities where senior services are a department or tradition of the city. With this in mind, are there specific critical needs to support seniors that you believe the city should fund?

Blake: “We have technologies now through phones and through [Global Positioning System] that we could put together a database and a resource center where we can know where our seniors are and if a disaster takes place we can find them and make sure they get where they need to be.”

Question: Over a period of three years, the Senior Housing Task Force came up with 11 recommendations [for] the City Council to improve the availability of housing for seniors, as well as solutions to age in place. Due to a variety of reasons, only two of these recommendations have been implemented since 2016. With this example, what role do you see for future specific purpose task forces and how should they weigh in on approving recommendations?

Mathews: “I came up with the idea of taking commercial space and renovating them into senior housing. I thought this would be a great idea to a have students, young families, seniors all living downtown in these spaces and in the Canyon. I envision in my head a community where all people have their own little house. These houses go from $5,000 to $50,000 and you get the city to pay for it and yes, we will, oh yes, we will.

 “I found an elevator that you can put in your house. It’s about $10,000, but I never in my life have seen a village gunk up and muck up the works more than Laguna Beach on detail.”

Question: One of the biggest challenges for seniors is transportation. In May of 2017, the City Council approved an Uber drive demand system for seniors but it was put aside for various reasons. What are your ideas to improve the current system or rectify the proposed Uber on demand transportation program?

 Mancuso: “One of the ideas that I had was to build a parking structure at the ACT V lot and to put zero emission vehicles there that would trolley back and forth people from ACT V into town so we could keep cars out of town. Well this would also work with seniors.

“These vehicles could be dispatched to our seniors as well so we could use them in our neighborhoods. Right now we have the big blue trolleys and they’re too big and lumbering. So if we downsize this and get a bunch of little ones that can shuttle people around it could really solve a lot of our issues.”

Kinsman: “I take Uber all the time, so I don’t understand what the problem is. Uber on demand is good. Our trams are also good.”

She commended Iseman for spearheading free trams rides.

Question: There are a number of issues that are foremost on Laguna Beach voters’ minds. Out of all the issues facing the future City Council, which one is your highest priority?

Laguna: “I am here because of you [seniors] because I knew I was going to become one of you. I was one of the first CERT graduates. They have stickers when there are pets at home. There are no stickers for you. There is nothing to tell the emergency responders that you are in the house and that you are disabled. We need to stop that.”  

Blake: “I would say the property rights and our ability to build.” 

Question: What are your views or your ideas as it relates to making sure the 55-plus population in Laguna Beach has a say in community planning and design?

Merritt: “We can get Wi-Fi and internet to all of our citizens to everyone, over and under 55. I don’t know that we need to put an age distinction on every issue.” 

Christoph: “Most of the people [candidates] here are over 55, and you can see how involved we all are. Every meeting I go to there are a lot of people that have a lot to say about it, of various ages. But generally there is a complaint that there aren’t enough young people involved. So I would encourage anyone who isn’t going to City Council meetings like an addict to get involved and enjoy it.”

Question: According to a senior housing study done in 2014, 97 percent [of seniors] preferred to age in place and stay in their homes for as long as possible. Often, minor modifications are necessary immediately, although they require going through an extended process that may take several weeks or months to complete. How would you streamline the process of home modifications for seniors?

Iseman: “I propose there be no fees for any of the things we do in terms of aging in place.” 

Dubin: He said he would work with the building department to make certain that anyone 55 or older could modify their home, if the modification did not impact neighbors in a significant way, with an over the counter approval rather than going through the elaborate and lengthy design review process. 

Question: Laguna Beach Seniors launched a new program called Lifelong Laguna aimed at seniors and helping them with a variety of services including home modification, in home assistance, and other things. What role do you see the city playing in supporting this effort?

Kempf: “Now one of the things I think would be really helpful to seniors is if the city could expedite the process. I will give you an example. Let’s say you break your hip, or your mother or father breaks a hip. They go to rehab and can’t get back into their house. It would be great if you could go down to the [City Hall] counter and say look, my loved one has had an accident. He or she has stairs and we need to get them into the house. 

“One of the things we could do is use housing in lieu funds for that. Housing in lieu funds are basically money that developers [pay into], instead of building affordable units or low income units. What we could do with that is we could go into the counter and say I need this ramp or I need this. I need this grab bar. If it is under $5,000 then perhaps we can give that person a grant.

“If the project costs more than $5,000, the city can set restrictions to ensure that if the property is sold, the city will get its money back.” 

Mancuso: “I guess first of all what we have to look at is all the committees and commissions under the City Council. When I took the Laguna Leadership classes what we got was a hand-out of all these committees. There were so many it would just make your head spin. I would look to refresh the committees and maybe do away with some or add some that aren’t there that are more of what we need right now.”

If funding is needed, the city could create a public/private partnership, she said. 

Question: There are virtually no assisted living facilities in the City of Laguna Beach and critically few rehab or skilled nursing facilities. How would you address this critical need if elected? 

Merritt: “Well I think the critical need could be very easily solved with our Mission Hospital in South Laguna. I understand they still have tons of unoccupied space for people that might need other services than drug rehab or urgent care. So I would propose that the hospital in South Laguna could also have some assisted living facilities. 

“Laguna Beach has quite a number – a remarkable number, of facilities for senior housing. We have Third Street, we have South Laguna,  and so possibly a part of those could be transformed into semi-assisted living. But we need to encourage private enterprise to come to Laguna.”

Kinsman: “When I was on the City Council before I spent three years of my life along with council member Jane Egly and then-Assistant City Manager John Pietig, and we saved our hospital which was maybe – and that is a very important thing to know, our hospital was going out of town. That hospital, now Mission Hospital Laguna Beach, owns the property behind the hospital. It is controversial but they are willing to build assisted living there but they are not going to do it unless everybody is behind it. The City Council hears all these people coming to the microphone saying we don’t want it, we don’t want it – it is supposed to be a park, it is supposed to be whatever. But if we want assisted living in this town, the hospital is willing to work with us and do it.”

Question: If upstairs units in downtown are dedicated to seniors, how do you propose to get around the problem of stairs?

Kempf: “An elevator.”

Question: What is your number one concern? What do you want Laguna Beach to be 25 years from now?

Merritt:  “First of all, I may not be here 25 years from now. But I’d like to look out on the horizon. I see a happy community where instead of worrying about parking we have automatic cars going around and picking people up and the cars can find their own parking space somewhere. I would like to see a way to get more young people into the town because if we become only a gray community, we are going to have more problems.”

Question: Do you think the City Council should be allowed to usurp Measure P sales tax 1 percent intent and take away present voters’ right to vote on a 25-year bond?

Iseman: “The council voted 5-0 to put this on the ballot and the determination will be made by the residents. And in order for this to pass, it has to pass at two thirds, which is an extraordinarily high level. We did pass one in 1989, Measure H, to start buying the Canyon. It is up to the residents of Laguna as to whether or not you want to do this. It’s your personal choice. 

“So it is your call, it is your vote, I am not usurping anything. It is the residents of Laguna who decide.”

Laguna: “Residents will not be allowed to vote on the bond measure, what type of bond, the amount of the bond will be solely and exclusively up to a vote of three, which I call the voice of God in this town. We really need to make it a voice of the people. You, all of you, out there should be able to vote for whether or not a bond is assessed, the amount of the bond.”

Iseman: “I misunderstood the question. If we don’t vote for [Measure P], the bond is not a consideration. If we do vote for it, we will find experts that make recommendations, and I am sure we will have members of the public there to explain what they think is right.”

Question: What is your reaction to the news that our city planning and council members never informed residents or public agencies of the loss of 120 parking spaces, not their disclosure of just 10 spaces reported by the city for the last four years of meetings and presentations of Village Entrance design plans?

This question triggered a short debate among the candidates

Kempf: Kempf is a member of the Planning Commission, which reviewed the plans for the Village Entrance.

“I don’t believe we have 120 [lost] parking spaces. I don’t remember the exact number but I think it is in the 20s or 25.”

Audience: “That is simply not true.”

Kinsman: “First of all, it is not true that we are spending $11.2 million dollars to pay for a parking lot. We are also paying in addition to that $5 million for what they call the Christmas tree lot. So the total to pave the parking lot and reduce parking spaces is really closer to $16 1/2 million dollars. It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong.” 

Christoph: “We are not losing 120 spaces. The Christmas tree lot has 62 or 63 spaces in it that was purchased by the city for the purpose of making up the parking spaces that we needed because we are not going to build a parking garage. So they are considering those spaces to be existing and the 62 spaces are really supposed to be supplemental and part of the Village Entrance plan. That’s why the Council bought it so they’re not supposed to be double counted.”

Kinsman: “Well the problem is we should be building a parking garage.”

Audience: “That is false. We have had a pay station there for four years, that was existing parking. How dare you!”

Kinsman: “Well we should be building a parking structure up against the hillside. We can build a parking structure that doesn’t even look like one and there are many of these all around the world. They look beautiful and they are parking. That should be a parking structure, not a park, which is what it is planned to be there with no restrooms.”

Mancuso: “Can we move on? We are hijacking their meeting here guys can you move on with your questions?”

Laguna: “We are trying to get the truth out.”

Question: Have you visited any of the low income housing facilities that currently exist in Laguna, if so which ones?

Blake: “No I haven’t.”

Question: Do you agree with the city promoting and advertising the message of fire and fear for evacuation routes in order to sway voters to approve undergrounding power lines with Measure P sales tax?

Christoph: “We need to look at all the options available to us and as a community decide what are the best things we can do to make us most safe at the most reasonable cost. I think Measure P is doomed for now, but it has raised the issue; it has made us think about this which is a wonderful service because we do need to think about what is the best thing we can do.”

Question: With all the issues requiring funding, what is your opinion on spending $11 million on the Village Entrance?

Mancuso: “For $11 million, My Goodness. We should have the Taj Mahal at the end of this. So it is ridiculous, it could’ve been done as some kind of beautification thing, with people here in Laguna Beach – a public/private program for probably $2 million dollars.” 

Question: Are you happy with the role design review plays in the city?

Mathews: “No. Double no. Triple no. I went to a couple of meetings because I believe before you say no to anything you go find out about it, right? So I went to a couple meetings, the arguments over the detail were insane. How does anything even get done. 

“I am not saying anyone is a bad person. But there is no transparency and there is no communication between anybody. That has got to stop now.”

Iseman: “Clarification: 70 percent of the things that go to design review get approved at the first meeting. Design review protects you, protects your view, protects your privacy.” 

Question: How would you utilize current city staff when applicable versus paying overtime consultants?

Blake: “We should be able to delegate authority to the city and say okay we are paying you this enormous salary and this pension, we are asking you to do your job, get the job done. If we feel like they are not getting the job done, we need to replace them with people who do get the job done.” 

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