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There’s something fishy about the Liberate Laguna PAC

We know that five big fish real estate developers and commercial property owners have contributed almost all of the more than $152,000 raised by the Liberate Laguna PAC, and that of that, $65,000 comes from related but opaque entities. (Theme for another day.)

They say their five issues are parking structures, design review, term limits, historicity, and commercial building deterioration.

Parking Structures: Why do the real estate developers behind Liberate Laguna want more parking downtown? Here’s one possible reason. The Heisler Building owned by one of the PAC founders, played the game so well that the building was approved for 510 restaurant seats with zero parking. (That’s the building with tenants Tommy Bahama and Skyloft.) Zero. By code, a new 510-seat restaurant would have 170 parking spaces. (Think Javier’s Crystal Cove with acres of parking.) Avoiding building 170 parking spaces saved a bundle – easily $15 million to buy the land and build the missing 170 spaces. (170 is ten percent of all downtown public or private spaces.) The problem is there are 510 people driving around looking for the parking spaces the project didn’t build. 

Design Review: Going through Design Review is no picnic, but last year the city issued 2,162 building permits. Only 249 projects even had to go through Design Review. Of those, nine were denied. 

Score: Approved Permits: 2,162, Denials: 9. Most applications get approved.

Term Limits: Billy Fried interviewed a PAC founding officer, asking if the city could adopt City Council term limits. The PAC officer said the city would have to change from a general law city to a charter city to do that. 

Slim chance. So why pretend?

Historicity: Billy asked about historicity, and the PAC officer told how his application for a porch on his house was denied. Bummer. Is his $22,000 contribution to the PAC about revenge?

Earlier he had written in another publication that he had been bullied by the city. 

Seriously? What do you call $152,000 from five rich folk with a possible grudge? Financial bullying? 

Commercial building deterioration. These folks own commercial buildings. Why are residents supposed to help them maintain their buildings while they collect the rent?

Back to parking: Billy asked the PAC officer if building parking would solve the problem.

His answer: “No.” 

Best answer of the night. 

But why then pretend you can do all these things?

What’s the real agenda? Something doesn’t smell right. Think before you vote.

John Thomas

Laguna Beach


I support slow, thoughtful changes in our town

There has been an uneasy balance in Laguna Beach politics for many years, between those who want little or slow change and those that see profit in change.

Laguna Beach is my hometown and I am quite clear that change occurs here. That cannot be helped, change will occur. I have watched local changes for over fifty years. I recall cattle in the canyon grazing along the old canyon road, that are no longer. I remember nearby orange groves and strawberry fields where tens of thousands of people now live. I watched local Laguna Beach neighborhoods fill in with houses and paths and shortcuts be fenced off and closed to public access, as the last lots were developed. I witnessed wild animals, birds and sea life become less common. I’ve experienced once illegal hiking trails (the Moulton and Irvine Ranches both discouraged trespassing when I was younger), now part of beautiful parklands for all, become so popular with bike riders, that some have become hazardous to hikers and walkers. Due to map apps, some of our neighborhoods have become racetracks for visitors and locals alike. And still, Laguna was and is, a beautiful place. 

One thing that hasn’t changed over all these 50 years is that some folks prefer the sense of small town qualities that Laguna Beach possesses. And, some see opportunity for profit, through change and redevelopment. 

We live in a county that today is home to three million people, more than inhabit about twenty individual states. ‘How can Laguna remain so backward?’ or ‘It could be so much more’, some feel. In such a highly populated county, it is just this nearly 100-year old city’s unique antique-ness that is so refreshing and beloved by millions and some residents alike. It is a refuge from the sameness of the big box world that many of us travel on a daily basis.

Quaint and old fashioned are not a popular thing to be these days, it seems. It’s almost a pejorative, something to be discarded and replaced, perhaps. There is certainly plenty of money to be made by razing structures and starting from scratch. I have spent my adult life in the construction industry and understand firsthand the need to repair and replace aging structures and systems. My lack of enthusiasm in building new parking structures and enlarging hotels, ideas espoused by “Liberate Laguna”, is because I feel residents’ interests, as opposed to commercial and visitor’s interests, often seem to be given short shrift. Building more parking structures at the very time when we are beginning to think differently about modes of transportation, is, in my opinion extremely short sighted. What about repairing our aging water and sewage systems? What about the additional impact to our roads from even more visitors! What about the years of construction these visions will require to come to fruition? And will residents, visitors or business owners benefit? 

Laguna Beach is an amazing and a beautiful place. Hard won local efforts have preserved its ocean environment and an immense greenbelt, thanks to visionaries from Laguna’s past. Many adoring visitors have made this town a favorite place for multiple generations and long-term families have enjoyed their hometown for years. The idea of stewardship of the environment, preserving our inheritance for future generations compels me to express my opinion to preserve the best of the historical built areas of our community as well. As individuals, we are all here for such a short time, our efforts should be more than self-serving and profit motivated. We have a responsibility to those who will follow us.

Like a lot of folks, I have been disappointed in the half-truths, bullying and lies that have taken the place of public discourse and debate across America. We can be better than that. I feel that while I cannot personally influence national politics, beyond casting my ballot, perhaps I can make a difference locally.

In this town so much is possible. We can truly have it all! A modern small city nestled in its surrounding beauty that caters to visitors and respects residents and its shared history. We have built in popularity that can float our businesses without “going big” in our commercial districts.

I support slow, thoughtful changes in our town, but not the notions of “Liberate Laguna”.

Thank you,

And, thank you Shaena Stabler for the name correction.

John Walker

Laguna Beach


Who am I?

Occupation: Parent, small business owner, community volunteer and children’s advocate, currently serving on the parent advisory committee at Top of the World Elementary (Laguna Beach Unified School District).

My qualifications are: Decorated United States Army Veteran; served proudly overseas. I currently have three boys who attend Top of the World Elementary and have been an active member on various committees within the community. I am a former parent advisory member at El Morro Elementary (LBUSD), and now I serve on the parent advisory committee at Top of the World Elementary. I am very well versed with the districts’ LCAP and funding initiatives.

My focus is creating a nurturing environment where every child has the opportunity to succeed. This requires smaller classes, rich curriculum, diverse electives, and advanced placement, career-technical, and vocational courses. I strongly support the education of anti-bullying for all (differently-abled/special needs, ethnicities, gender, LGBTQ, race, religion) to ensure a safe learning environment. Fiscal responsibility is of the utmost importance to me to ensure the money the school district spends is spent benefiting students first. I have the experience to manage during tough economic times and I support public disclosure of LBUSD expenditures. I am a dedicated, compassionate, detail-oriented leader. Together, we can tackle the quality-of-education, equity, and fiscal challenges, while representing diverse interests. I would be honored by your vote. 

Why am I running?

I want to help.

Our school board is facing several critical decisions that will affect our district for years to come. I want to help by contributing my experience and professional skills to the board. 

Safety is #1 concern.

With all of the unfathomable violent scenes taking place across school campuses in the United States, Laguna Beach Unified needs to be at the forefront of making sure our campuses and students are safe and secure. I firmly believe each campus needs a dedicated Safety Resource Officer. I intend to have the LBUSD school board and city council work together on more of a consistent basis to address ways to improve safety and security measures across all campuses.

Good communication is key.

As a public body, the school board owes a duty to the public to be as open as possible. With these important issues facing our district, good communication from the board is more important than ever. The board should communicate as regularly and openly as it can, so our citizens are well-informed. 

I am passionate about bringing back the Honors grade bump for all LBHS students, in order for our students to get rewarded for the hard work they put into their course work.

We all win with a strong education system.

As a business owner, I know that having a strong education system in our community is critical to local businesses that want to hire well-educated workers in exchange for good wages and benefits. But the whole community wins when our future citizens are given a good education that allows them to comfortably support their families. Let’s all work together, and let’s all win. 

PROP 5 is a Concern if Approved:

Ballot Subtitle: Changes Requirements for Certain Property Owners To Transfer Their Property Tax Base To Replacement Property. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Ballot Text: Removes certain transfer requirements for homeowners over 55, severely disabled homeowners, and contaminated or disaster-destroyed property.

Fiscal Impact: Schools and local governments each would lose over $100 million in annual property taxes early on, growing to about $1 billion per year. Similar increase in state costs to backfill school property tax losses.

Laguna Beach’s Home Ownership is about 27% of the homes being second homes. 

If Prop 5 is approved this could impact our district’s budget since we are not State funded. I am going to look at many of our expenditures to make sure we prepare for the future if elected.

Mark Nelson

Laguna Beach


CANDO board members support Measure P

CANDO, the Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization, supports Measure P for Laguna Beach.

Downed electrical wires were the leading cause of wildfires in California in 2017. As the number and intensity of wildfires goes up our risk is increasing, not decreasing. 

In addition to fire danger, inevitably, earthquakes and mudslides (as in ’98) will bring poles and live wires down, blocking evacuation routes, disrupting communications, interrupting power, and preventing first responders from coming to the aid of those trapped. 

We may not be able to evacuate, nor reach out for help and help may not be able to get to us. It’s a problem that needs solving.

But nobody is going to help us but us! Well, us and 6 million visitors. Approximately two-thirds of sales tax revenues in Laguna Beach are paid by our visitors. With a 1 percent sales tax increase visitors would pay the majority of the costs needed for undergrounding.

But won’t Southern California Edison (SCE) or Caltrans pay for undergrounding? 

SCE will not pay. The City has tried to work with Sacramento, and directly with SCE for 3 years – to no avail. Amongst SCE’s proposals are to cut down trees on your private property (up to 200 ft. from the lines) and, in the case of high fire danger, to turn the power off. 

Caltrans is prohibited by law from paying for improvements to electrical facilities. And although the County is paying for the undergrounding of 14 poles from El Toro to the Toll Rd, the County has no proposal or budget for any undergrounding from Canyon Acres to El Toro. Neither Caltrans nor the County will provide a solution.

Undergrounding is critical to our safety. Together we can protect one another. Vote Yes on P.

Penelope Milne

John Hamil

John Albritton

Steve Tollefsrud

Helen Shirley

Sharon Risely

Laguna Beach


Don’t mess up Laguna

During a public workshop on April 16, 2014, Andres Duany told a packed council chambers, “Get it wrong in a place like Laguna Beach and you will really mess this up.” Duany was the LB public favorite urban planner from Sargent Town Planning, an international urban planning firm. Councilman Dicterow said many members of the community really liked Mr. Duany and he made a great presentation but Duany and Sargent were not favored for selection. In the end Sargent was eliminated from the top two design firms to draft the next Downtown Specific Plan for Laguna Beach; finally, MIG Consulting was chosen to lead. 

What did Mr. Andres Duany know that the City didn’t want? Duany knew that to preserve a village with a pedestrian friendly downtown and community you need to consider the mobility plan first not last. The Laguna Creative Ventures (LCV) website (www.lagunacreativeventures.com) shows the Cleo Project by LCV provides parking for 223 cars! LCV made a good effort with lovely renderings but still considers the mobility plan somebody else’s problem. To prepare for this letter, LCV was contacted to answer the parking and mobility question; no answer was received. 

Here is a reference for the public workshop where three urban planners made their pitch for the DSP:

www.lagunabeachcity.net/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?blobid=10837

Sargent Town Planning today: www.sargenttownplanning.com/firm/team.

Les Miklosy

Laguna Beach


Laguna’s Construction – Another Big Deception

Political advisors know, the most deceptive lies are half lies; when repeated often enough, they will be perceived as truth by voters. “Laguna could have become another Miami” is the imminent threat that strangles this City at its core, and everyone keeps believing it. I ask, where are all those Miamis on the California coast? California is not Florida.

The treat of, if you don’t vote for us or our issues “Laguna will become Miami” fear, poisons every election for at least 25 years. In the same vain this is used to over-regulate our City, resulting in everything stays stagnant till it dies. The latest symptom of such deception politics, 50 years of discussing the Village Entrance without defining its function. Millions spent on out-of-towner consultants, to finally exchange one parking lot for another, with 122 less parking spots, no public bathrooms for $12 million, included the crowning achievement to renovate a sewer house for $1 million.

Know, Laguna and the nature it is nestled in are not the same. Laguna did nothing to enhance nature; in contrary, nature now provides all of Laguna’s leftover value. You only can have people living in this shantytown without using their downtown, because of Laguna’s plein air-quality surroundings. Imagine, taking solely the town and placing it into Riverside. No one with an income of more than $30,000 would choose to live there.

What we resist persists. The current presence of big builders is another symptom of resisting progress and refusing to ponder on a future vision. In a healthy flourishing town such builders could not have infiltrated. What about Montage Hotel and The Ranch? Would the movement against construction want to scrap them too? These buildings are organically designed and integrated with nature and the City. The reason that those against construction conveniently forget those Laguna marbles, is because construction is replacing the Village Entrance as deflection from the real issues. Do the old folks of Laguna really want to test how long they can keep the status quo in “their town?” If these smoke and mirror tactics keep decaying Laguna’s economic viability then this town will set the perfect condition for a multibillion dollar company to sweep it up and build a Laguna Beach Disney resort-style town. But this does not seem to bother the old folks, because they will be gone, having exactly achieved the opposite of what they intended.

Michaell Magrutsche

Aliso Viejo


A Toxic Campaign

We live in troubling times. Our country is riddled with anger and anxiety. Somehow I naively thought we in Laguna were not subject to the same divisive tactics that we see at the national level. Yet, here we are. 

I’ve lived in Laguna Beach for more than four decades and witnessed a lot of elections. This one has been, by far, the most negative. The personal attacks on fellow council candidates as well as fellow citizens, the slamming of a long time nonprofit organization, the nasty postings on social media, are all so troubling. The general disrespect and uncivil conduct throughout this campaign, has no place in our friendly village. We have worked together in the past, even if we didn’t see eye to eye. My greatest hope is that we can continue to do so.

At the candidates’ forum held at the Playhouse on Monday evening (10/22), the last question asked was about civility. “If elected, how would you bring civility to the Council?” Peter Blake’s answer was especially telling. He answered, “If you want civility, don’t vote for me!” 

Words matter. Civility matters.

Trudy Josephson

Laguna Beach


Response to John Walker’s recent letters

I find your incessant negative writings of Liberate Laguna in Stu News an insult to our community. How come you didn’t attend and speak at the Billy Fried radio show on Thursday night? You seem to believe yourself the “mouthpiece” of reason for Village Laguna, Toni Iseman and Ann Christoph, a.k.a. “no change”. You have lost all of your credibility with me.

Sam Goldstein

Laguna Beach


My new hat says “Vote”

Letter Freidenrich

Click on photo for a larger image

Back in the 1970s, I first worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and then founded the nonprofit California Voter Group after I returned to Laguna.

Working for a Member of Congress was inspiring; the Voter Group was created to encourage high school students, regardless of their political affiliations, to vote when they turned 18.

The lessons I learned from both experiences have not been lost on this 70-something father of three. That’s why I say vote next Tuesday.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach


Obituary

Reverend Michael Ahern

April 12, 1946 - October 5, 2018

Rev Michael Ahern

Click on photo for a larger image

Reverend Michael James Ahern passed away peacefully in his home in Huntington Beach on October 5, 2018. Michael was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and lived most of his adult life in Laguna Beach near Main Beach where he would be seen by many locals and tourists alike – soaking up the sun and good vibes of Laguna yesteryears.

He was known by many as Rev. Michael as he married countless couples over his retirement years at the famous Laguna gazebo and many other locations around south Orange County. 

He will be truly missed by all.

Rev. Michael is survived by his daughter Natalie Ahern and grandchildren Brittany and Sam in California and his three sisters in Ohio.

His memorial is Saturday, Nov 10 at 10:00 am. at the gazebo in North Laguna at Heisler Park (across from Las Brisas), followed by a toast and gathering at the White House restaurant at 12 p.m. Appetizers and lite bites will be provided by the White House for guests.

Please join us in this farewell celebration of Michael.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Natalie Ahern sent to 352 Third Street, Suite 306, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. Thank you to those that have assisted already.

There is a Facebook event for Michael’s memorial at www.facebook.com/events/160221281593981/?ti=icl.

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