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Gadfly responds to previous letter writer

I am the “local political gadfly” Howard Hills referred to in his recent letter to the editor. Clearly, he and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to interpreting “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and the impact Bob Dylan’s iconic song had on turning Orange County bright blue last month. 

One definition of a gadfly is, “An annoying person who provokes others into action.” If that is true, then I am flattered by Howard’s description. During the course of my career, countless people have thanked me for inspiring them to become involved in both national and local politics. I’d like to think that’s because my political radar is pretty darn good. Consider the following:

I first crossed paths with Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1974. That is when Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s political eyes and ears, used to visit the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington. I was a fundraiser for the DNC at the time and remember telling friends to watch Carter.

After Gary Hart made a campaign stop in Newport in 1983, I told the event organizers, David Stein, Bernie Schneider and the late Stuart Karl, I did not share their enthusiasm for the Colorado lawmaker. They were sure the young senator had a chance of defeating Ronald Reagan the following year, but I said no.   

Like a lot of people in 1990, I wondered which Democrat would capture my party’s 1992 nomination. When Bill Clinton convinced Orange County Republican heavyweights like Kathryn Thompson, Roger Johnson and Harriett Wieder to cross party lines and join his campaign, I remember telling friends to watch Clinton.

In 2007, I was picked to be Barack Obama’s wing man during a stop in Newport Coast. After spending an hour introducing him one-on-one to a room full of VIPs, I was convinced he was the candidate to watch in ‘08. Over many objections, some from my own family, I decided to support Obama a year before he made history. 

And then there was Hillary Clinton in 2016. I spent most of the year promoting her efforts to become America’s first female president. That is until mid-September, six weeks before the general election, when I wrote a piece in the Register urging Clinton to fire her inner circle of advisors. I was attacked by Democrats near and far for being a “know-nothing” but guess what? It turns out this gadfly’s radar was more right than wrong.

Which brings me to the 2020 presidential candidates today.

If you believe the pundits, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of Calif. are the early front-runners. 

Almost everyone else who is mentioned – Sen. Cory Booker of N.J., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of N.Y., former Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Va. and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg – hails from the East Coast. Three other possible contenders, Sen. Sharrod Brown of Ohio, Beto O’Rourke of Texas and entertainer Oprah Winfrey, also deserve mentioning. 

Having been a student of politics since the late 1960s, I know most of these wannabe candidates will come and go long before the Iowa caucus in 2020. 

One person that has staying power beyond the borders of the Hawkeye State is Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minn. She has all the credentials necessary to win the presidency two years from now. First, she already has a 12-year track record as a senator; second, she is from the Midwest; and, third, she is, well, a woman. 

Klobuchar’s impressive win November 6th proved she not only did well in urban areas of Minnesota, but she also knew how to rack up votes in rural parts of the state as well. That is a quality many, if not most, of her Democratic rivals would envy during the primaries and/or have a problem duplicating in the 2020 general election.

As mentioned, I have watched dark horse candidates Carter, Clinton and Obama win the presidency. No pundit I know gave any of them much of a chance of winning two years before the general election. The thing I like most about Amy Klobuchar is she is hiding in plain sight. According to Business Insider, she could “bury” Donald Trump. 

That said, senator, if you decide to run for president count this local political gadfly in. My political radar says you are the one to watch.

Denny Freidenrich

Laguna Beach

Ooooh, oooh, that smell: Noxious sewage odors along PCH unabated

Over three years ago, the city agreed in federal Judge David O. Carter’s court to begin a 10-year rehabilitation schedule for our sanitary sewer system, funding $3.5 million per year for 10 years, $35 million total. That was codified, i.e. formally agreed to contractually as a result of litigation initiated by California River Watch in October 2014.

My NGO, Clean Water Now (CWN), was the sole protectionist group to formally sign on to the lawsuit.

CWN joined because after 15 years of pro bono work on this issue as watchdogs, little rehabilitation or improvement had taken place.

For us it was unfinished business, our previous efforts around 2000 on the same topic were being ignored, the city not fulfilling its promises to both California and the Federal Environmental Protection Agencies. Fined substantially by Cal-EPA, a harsh warning by USEPA and a promised “Zero Tolerance” policy ratified, the city is a classic backslider. 

One of the burning issues was (and still is) the city’s archaic, dilapidated sanitary sewer system, the specter of larger overflows/spills looming plus one of the major defect symptoms: The buildup of H2S (hydrogen sulfide gases, that obnoxious odor of human waste) in several key neighborhood zones. (

It really hit home for myself and my neighbors here in Victoria Beach and just south along Coast Highway near Ruby’s and the Montage, as proven in court. Complaining letters about noxious odors had been written previously to the city over the course of nearly a decade, demanding redress and relief.

The city acknowledged the more pungent, problematic and objectionably smelly, deficient lift station gas reductions during the proceedings. Relatively inexpensive oxygen scrubbers were to be installed in all of our pump stations. So they said.

We along South Coast Highway were assured that we’d be a high priority being chronically affected: The lift station near Nyes Place by Dizz’s and the one on the stairs leading down to Victoria Beach near Sunset were mentioned as prime candidates. That rancid stench of H2S along PCH from Bluebird to the Montage Resort has never been abated, at its worst early mornings due to stagnant flows.

Don’t believe us? Get up early and walk, bike or commute this stretch in the wee hours of the morning: It’s what we wake up to, and like most here we like to leave our windows open – so leave your car windows open if you drive through as suggested, take a whiff and see if you’d like that to begin your day. 

It has been with great curiosity and sad depression that we’ve tracked the subsequent budgets since that compact was mutually agreed upon by all parties. I guess not having any council members or high echelon staff residing in this most impacted zone becomes “out of City official smell radius, out of mind?”

Now the litigation expenses regarding the Coastal Treatment Plant dispute with Moulton Niguel Water District in Aliso Creek Canyon has resulted in the City delaying indefinitely the rehab of the Victoria Beach lift/pump stations, using Laguna’s plaintiff role and attorney expenses as an excuse to continue to do nothing it seems. City Hall keeps alleging surpluses yet avoids compliance with mandated legal cures, it seems…meanwhile our already antiquated storm water and sewer systems continue to degrade.

LB taxpayers and fiscal watchdogs, self-described community eco-activists, media columnists plus council candidates petitioning at city budget hearings seem to be unaware of that compact with the court system, the plaintiffs demands and concerns about sewage spills and noxious gas emissions, which are unsafe, create hazardous air quality and beach conditions that trigger closures and decimate fragile marine eco-systems.

Viewing budgets subsequent to the settlement agreement, I can’t find any earmarked funds that confirm or sustain the city’s broken promises. Nor am I reassured by the lack of specificity regarding prioritization.

Myself and my alarmed letter-writing neighbors are justifiably wondering: Are we in Victoria Beach being punished for being whistleblowers, for exercising our rights to acquire a redress of legitimate grievances?

Obviously, no good deed goes unpunished here.

Roger E. Bütow

Laguna Beach

Let us support the ESA as a community

News coverage of “endangered species” often prompts one to think of Africa, and places beyond, where some of nature’s most iconic species are on the brink of extinction. We don’t always remember that right here in California we have plenty of threatened wildlife populations, and especially so in Laguna Beach, which borders the Pacific Ocean that is home to even more imperiled species.

In 1973, President Nixon established the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect threatened species, and to help struggling populations recover to healthy levels. 

With existential threats to so many plants and animals, it seems like an odd time to hamper the ability of the ESA to do its job, but that is exactly what the current administration is doing.   

In summary, these proposals make it more difficult to protect species, to add new species to the list, easier to remove species currently on the list, to reduce protections for imperiled species, to make it more difficult to protect critical habitat, and to bias listing decisions based on unreliable economic analyses rather than on scientific data.  Instead of protecting wildlife, these changes will have just the opposite effect. 

The ESA needs to be supported, in every way, and I hope readers will consider making plenty of noise for the ESA through social media outlets, conservation organizations, political connections, etc. At the end of the day, we simply can’t expect the planet to function properly when too many of its residents disappear. 

Verna Rollinger

Laguna Beach

Triumphalism trivializes peaceful democratic change

There’s no question Orange County was where the much-heralded blue wave made landfall. Voters of all political party affiliations and unaffiliated electors alike who voted for winning candidates earned the right to celebrate. Of course, divided government means Democrats no longer have the luxury of being the opposition party rallying resistance to Republican one party rule. We all hope leaders of both parties can do better than what we have seen the last decade. 

So it only served to trivialize democratic values when a local political gadfly recently misappropriated a 1964 civil rights anthem for utterly gratuitous political party sloganeering. To preserve integrity in literary historicity, let’s deconstruct the absurd assertion lyrics in Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’” were  “prophetic” in a narrow partisan sense realized by 2018 midterm election results in Orange County.

Those of us who took social and even physical risks demonstrating for Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the 1960s know better. Indeed, those of us who saw Dylan perform that song also know he loathes hearing wannabes who obviously missed the point interpret his songs. A later song, “Day of the Locusts,” was about Ivy League elitists similarly hijacking his literary legacy.

Next generation Americans should know Dylan’s songs stirred the national conscience in the 1960s when Democratic Party leaders controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress. Intoxicated by decades of one party rule, Democrats presided over military conscription laws discriminating against the poor and racial minorities. 

Democratic leaders were caught red-handed in official lies denying U.S. national security policy was failing in Vietnam, a war the majority of Americans eventually opposed. Under two Democratic presidents (JFK and LBJ) the U.S. pursued a no-win military strategy, ultimately costing over 58,000 American lives, most under the age of 21, tens times more than the War on Terrorism.   

Democratic one party rule in 1964 was unwilling to overcome internal opposition within the party caucus to civil rights legislation ending institutionalized racial segregation. President Johnson acknowledged the historic 1965 Civil Rights Act was made possible with the support of Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.    

So it’s historical revisionism to even imply 2018 midterm results mean only one political party has stood on the right side of national values going back to 1964. Indeed, Clinton and Obama lost far more Democratic seats in 1994 and 2010 midterms, respectively, than Republicans in 2018. OC and California may well have fallen under San Francisco-based one party rule in 2018, but clearly the nation has not yet embraced the new California paradigm.   

Dylan’s song in 1964 recognized the times are always changing in America, because the Constitution empowers the people to reward success and punish failure. That’s how what government does right is sustained and what government does wrong is corrected. If anyone thinks one party has a monopoly on right or wrong, good or evil, here’s a few other Dylan songs about perils of democracy, starting with “Idiot Wind,” “Slow Train Coming” and “As I Went Out One Morning.”

Howard Hills

Laguna Beach

Devastating fires are a reminder to us to be prepared to evacuate

The recent devastating fires in LA/Ventura and Northern California should be a less-than-gentle reminder that residents of disaster-prone areas (like Laguna Beach and many others in California) should not be complacent about being ready to evacuate – and do it fast.

The sad tales of bodies found in cars as people were trying to flee surrounding flames – and even some who were killed by fire as they ran from cars that caught fire – should be a wake-up call to all of us that ‘readiness’ for emergencies also means being able to act fast.

Laguna Beach CERT is still collecting signatures from residents promising to be prepared ( as a reminder to do just that. And the city now is offering basic go-bags for $50 to residents who are still without the essentials. Anyone who signs an interest list indicating they would like to purchase the go-bag from the city will get a call when the go-bags are ready and – if you still want to buy it – a CERT member will deliver the bag to you. What could be easier? If you want to buy a bag, contact Jordan Villwock at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Meanwhile, make your 15-minute list of what you’d take if you only have 15 minutes to get out. Make sure you know the location of those items (tip: medication, flash drive with important documents, cash, IDs, laptops/notebook computers, cell phone and charger, pets, and a photo of family members with the pets as well as photos of every room in your home for starters). Put a big reminder on your garage door to turn your car around facing out when a fire is in your area and – if there’s time – fill up the tank before you’re told to evacuate. 

Survivor after survivor spoke of not knowing what to take and just grabbing a few things. Others spoke of the horror of driving through flames to get out. In Paradise, CA, residents pretty much had only one access road out of town. Sound familiar? Plan a route, let someone know where you are headed and hit that evacuation route as soon as you can when a fire is approaching. 

And first, have that go-bag with water, snacks, pet food, extra medication, masks, first aid items and basic tools ready to go whenever the next disaster may hit. 

Sandi Cain

Laguna Beach

Laguna Canyon Bikeway/Trail Firebreak and Roundabouts

No on P has prevailed, yet still Yes on P advocates try to justify their Fire & Fear Campaign points.

They were only considering their own ideas: “We determined that undergrounding in the Canyon was the best way...We decided what needed to be done and left the “how” up to the finance experts.” The problem was their experts were a group predisposed towards undergrounding – Yes on P Supporters – without consideration for residents who already paid [for undergrounding]. Instead, they left their financing ideas with bondsmen and ULN-free view proponents in charge who could benefit, it seems, by it being paid for by the 80 percent of Residents who already paid their fair share. We also didn’t need bonds paid by Lagunans to finance State Hwy/undergrounding projects for Laguna Canyon Rd. Caltrans will do this with their new plans.

The latest fuel modification vote attributed to the Current City Council isn’t new, I’ve been designing these community fire buffer zones since the 1970s. They’re common sense tangible solutions with a finite scope and budget, not some bond...then tax with bond that never gets paid off proposal. The only obstacle to fuel modification is environmental extremism/fighting through red tape that inhibits establishing a safety zone needed for resident’s protection. The California fires illuminate the need to restore proper fuel modification buffers with preapproved authority to establish and maintain them, with prescribed preservation of rare plants mandated, while allowing thinning and clearance buffers for fire safety. 

We can manage our fire buffer solutions without further bonds and fear tactics. I’ve posted numerous requests for restoring fuel modification zones in South Laguna and needed road connections to Bluebird Canyon. Interconnecting to Arch Beach and T.O.W. as important alternative public access routes are clearly lacking in our City’s fire preparedness plan.

We should be investing in 1st Phase alternative, a 10-12’ Multi-Use Bikeway/Trail that’s adjacent but separated – a new fire buffer, from Laguna Canyon Rd that utilizes existing ranch roads but is upgraded to 8 percent maximum grades for family and handicapped Laguna Coast Wilderness Park use. It begins at the Sawdust Frontage Rd and crosses at Canyon Acres Rd, connecting to existing Parking before El Toro Rd.

The 2nd Phase should be completion of this Multi-Use Bikeway/Trail in Laguna Canyon to serve as another fire buffer defensive zone just north of Willows on Laguna Canyon Rd to the Nix Center and Irvine beyond on the same old ranch road within the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, between El Toro Rd and the 73 Hwy, and not part of the dangerous Laguna Canyon Rd. Bike lanes Caltrans now proposes adjacent to speeding cars. This interior Bikeway/Trail would be safe and surrounded by nature and would invest in a firebreak buffer/public safety direct route for popular electric, mountain and road bikes and hiking residents and visitors alike. This adjustment would allow Caltrans ability to have two lanes inbound as well as their proposed two outbound to/from El Toro Rd, and implementation of a roundabout at El Toro Rd and Canyon Acres to return fluid movement to Laguna Canyon Rd and  reduce traffic congestion.

I am a former paid call OC Fireman in South Laguna, 50+ year Laguna resident, and Landscape Architect/Land Planner

Bryan Menne

Laguna Beach

A Thanksgiving Feast of Remember When

Undoubtedly every year, somewhere between Aunt Mary’s famous mashed potatoes and Marie Calendar’s warm pumpkin pie, the unspoken tradition of “remember when...” begins the belly laughter around the table commencing the opening ceremony of Thanksgiving: A walk down memory lane. 

Just as every apple pie needs a dollop of vanilla ice cream, what would Thanksgiving be without the ritual of retelling childhood memories over and over again? Anticipating our own family gathering, being one of six, we had our own favorite stories archived. 

The bowl of Okra

“Remember the bowl of Okra,” Kurt, our older brother bursted out as each and every one of us, leaning back in our chairs, pounded our fists on the table with tears of hysteria. 

It is common knowledge that okra with its gooey snotty center, is the God forsaken vegetable that must have been created just as God sneezed. Downright disgusting, frying it is the only possible remedy attempting to disguise this vegetable gone awry. Steaming it instead, mom slyly passed out a portion to each of us, prodding “here you go kids, eat up,” persuading us like a double agent. 

Was this mom or did she go undercover as Health Nazi? 

Sacrificing our youngest sister to test the first slimy bite, spitting it out she bawled, “This tastes like a bowl of boogers!” Suddenly, survival instinct took over. Abandoning her to the bowl of boogers we jumped up and ran, leaving our poor little sister crying at the table with a mouth full of slime. 

From that day forward, maybe as our karma payback, a bowl of okra was the family punishment. Rather than being threatened with a more civilized form of restriction, ours was more savage. 

If you do not get your chores done, blackmailed mom, a bowl of okra! I’ll drink that with a spoon, please! 

Laughingly reminiscing we all turned to mom who sat smirking eating another bite of pie. 

“Wait, wait, remember the protein drinks,” chimed in my brother as if to top the last story. 

“More like protein chews,” my older sister added cracking up. 

Endeavoring to enhance our immune system in case we needed to survive a global meltdown, mom made us her special protein drink designed for optimum health. What started as acceptable, year by year, became unbearable. Our simple protein drink that was drinkable, morphed into a thick paste of cod liver oil and mashed liver tablets, which had to be eaten with a spoon. 

Yet, every morning she presented us with a choice. “Good morning kids! Do you want pancakes or a protein drink?’ 

Collectively, the choice was obvious, “Pancakes!” 

“Well, how about a protein drink today?” she questioned with an already established answer. The ritual went on day after day with hope deferred of ever getting a normal unhealthy breakfast. Until one morning our subtle revolt surfaced.

“Mom,” we all wondered, “have you tasted this? Where’s yours?” 

“Darlings, I always have mine before you,” she explained. Challenging her to drink it in front of us, we handed her a spoon to authenticate her claim. As soon as she took her first gulp, she beelined for the toilet in an emergency evacuation chased by six kids. Finally, exonerated it was warm syrupy pancakes ever after. 

Beloved Nancy

Yet, one or our favorite stories we tell every year was about our beloved babysitter Nancy, who really wasn’t a babysitter, nor did she ever clean the house. In fact, Nancy weighted about 250 pounds and left candy wrappers all over the floor as she watched all her favorite soap operas, especially General Hospital during which we were forbidden to talk. To her the day of Luke and Laura’s wedding was as sacred as Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s nuptials. 

“Remember her chasing us around with the fly swatter!” we laughed. Because her threats were futile, she changed her tactics. ‘If I catch you, I’ll sit on you!” 

“No, Nancy, No,” too young not to believe her, thinking we would surely die if we did not do what she said. Looking back, she ordered us from her cushy TV chair, and mom never knew otherwise. 

Remember When

As Thanksgiving approaches yet another year, I am sure we will retell all the same stories. Nevertheless, it isn’t really the stories that are so special, it is the bond that gets stronger and stronger each time we retell it. A cherished tradition that will never be broken. 

It is all of our remember whens…that is part of the collage that makes us family. 

Lisa Hamilton

Laguna Beach

Do you know of any more big/major projects in past 20 years?

Do you know of any Planning Commission of City Council approvals for big/major projects in the past 20 years beyond the list below?

Current List: 

Montage Hotel (1993 – 2002 – new construction) – 9 years for approval due to three ballot measures to approve or defeat the project

Pottery Shack (2007-2009) – remodel and adding offices, restaurant and parking

Heisler Building (2006-2018 – remodel of historic building) – 9 years for final approvals given in 2018

Susi Q (February 2009 – new construction – City owned property)

Presbyterian Church (2009 – remodel and master plan)

FM Radio Station Building (2012 – new construction)

The Ranch at Laguna Beach (2014 – remodel project of entire site) – approval was given without dealing with the Coastal Commission, which caused multiple delays and fines for many years

Mosun/Red Dragon Chinese Restaurant (2016 – current – total remodel) – stopped working

Festival of Arts (2018 – new façade – City owned property)

Village Entrance (2018 – new construction – City owned property)

This list is of ten major properties in the City of Laguna Beach over the past 20 years that have been totally remodeled or newly constructed of which three properties are owned by the City of Laguna Beach.

Do you know of any more? If so, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Samuel Goldstein

Laguna Beach

Bright Blue Orange County

Now that the votes have been counted, all congressional districts in Orange County will be represented by a Democrat beginning in January. Most political insiders, from former lawmakers Loretta Sanchez and Jerry Patterson to party chairs Frank Barbaro and Fran Sdao, never believed a blue tsunami of this magnitude would happen in their lifetime. 

Now that it has, I know they wish Richard Hanna, Dick O’Neil and Howard Adler were alive to celebrate with them. It wasn’t that long ago when Republicans joked all Democrats in the county could meet in a telephone booth. Clearly, those days are over.

Bob Dylan was right, “The times they are a-changin.” If GOP heavyweights Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Beckman, Walter Knott, John Wayne, James Utt, John Schmitz, Bob Badham, Marian Bergeson and Tom Fuentes still were with us, they would need oxygen now. That, and they would be scratching their heads wondering how ruby red Orange County turned bright blue virtually overnight.

Denny Freidenrich
Laguna Beach

I wasn’t going to but…

It is no longer “A Penny Saved, A Penny Earned,” it is “A Penny Saved, A Penny Burned.”

Ganka Brown

Laguna Beach

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