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Search for new city manager is moving forward

By SARA HALL

The search for a new city manager is progressing and a selection could happen as early as the end of this month.

City Council held a closed session special meeting Saturday (April 10) at Surf and Sand Resort regarding appointment of a new city manager. 

On April 8, Mayor Bob Whalen gave an update on City Council items on KXFM radio station. During the “Mornings with Ed” segment, Whalen said the city manager search is going well.

Whalen referenced the all-day Saturday session as a meeting to review six candidates. A follow-up meeting is planned for April 24 to further interview a few finalists before making a selection early next month, he said.

“I’m hoping that we stay on that timeline and have some news for people by…end of April or early May,” Whalen said on the radio show.

The process is confidential and discussions have occurred in closed session, City Attorney Phil Kohn confirmed in an email with Stu News Laguna on Monday. Confidentiality is to protect the identity of the candidates and the integrity of the selection process, he said.

“The City Council will interview and reach a tentative agreement with a candidate that will be subject to approval by a majority of the City Council at a regularly scheduled public meeting,” Kohn said. 

It is currently anticipated that the council will consider approval of such an agreement for the next City Manager in May, he added.

Current City Manager John Pietig announced earlier this year that he planned to retire in June after two decades with the city. Prior to his current position as Laguna Beach’s top administrator, Pietig was assistant city manager for 10 years.

Search for new Pietig

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Courtesy of City of LB

Current City Manager John Pietig is retiring in June

Laguna Beach City Council hired executive recruiting firm Bob Murray & Associates to conduct a comprehensive search as part of the process of hiring a new city manager. Through this process, the Council aims to ensure a strong applicant pool of qualified internal and external candidates for the position.

Gary Phillips from the recruiting firm moderated three virtual town hall listening sessions last month and offered an opportunity for the public to identify the needs of the community as it pertains to the role.

Phillips said his job is to gain as much information and knowledge about Laguna Beach as possible, and then present a pool of candidates to the council. The process usually takes about four months, he said.

During the three listening sessions, several comments from members of the public were repeated as important qualities in the next city manager.

Issues or concerns that echoed over all three meetings included: Balancing the division or opposing factions in town; transparency from the city; listening and working with citizens; and creating a positive work environment at city hall. 

“If the new city manager could bring that transparency and trust, that would be a huge improvement,” Emil Monda said during the first listening session. 

The staff reports need to be neutral and balanced, but that doesn’t seem to always be the case now, Monda said. 

Residents also mentioned that the new city manager should have an ability to work with the California Coastal Commission, be ready to deal with the affordable housing requirements from the state, understand the importance of art in the city, and focus on protecting the neighborhoods.

“We would like a more creative, more Laguna-oriented type of management,” Johanna Felder said during the second public discussion. Someone that is “uniquely Laguna.” 

The second community meeting veered off topic while the recruiters addressed a rumor, but it ultimately highlighted the passionate discussion that tends to occur in Laguna Beach. Speakers noted that this type of questioning dialogue is a good example of what the new city manager will have to deal with as the top city staffer in Laguna Beach. 

The right person has to be mature, confident, have thick skin, and choose their battles carefully, Dennis Boyer said during the second meeting.

“Listening to the dialogue tonight, two personal characteristics that stand out to me: Diplomatic skills and a thick skin,” Boyer said. “It’s not for the faint of heart to deal with politics in Laguna.”

Residents also hoped the new employee will genuinely care about the town and want to work to improve it.

“I want a city manager who loves Laguna as much as the residents do,” Michele Monda said during the third public listening session.

The new city manager should be someone the residents can trust and is loyal to what’s best for the community, MJ Abraham agreed during the third meeting.

“It’s extremely important that we hire someone who wants to be here and commits to making a positive difference in our city,” Abraham said.

The person who fits all of those qualifications might be hard to find, some speakers agreed.

Skills required from the city’s next top executive will also need to include being able to navigate the often-fiery and questioning dialogue, as evident from the second recruitment listening session, and balance the needs of people on both sides of the current division in town in an unbiased manner.

“Whoever gets selected needs to be able to navigate, negotiate that divide very astutely because it’s not going away,” Mike Morris said during the third public discussion.

“The challenges that will face the city manager are just immense,” Chris Catsimanes concluded during the third and final listening session. “We need someone that’s got imagination, can think out of the box, and of course all of the other requisites: Working with people, working with factions. And yet, being able to guide us in a way that we come together as a village again, because right now we’re not.”


Council repeals old code provision that criminalizes “profane” language

By SARA HALL

City Council repealed a municipal code provision from 1953 that criminalizes the use of certain language at City Council meetings following an interesting discussion this week.

The provision, which will be removed in its entirety, reads: “Any member of the council, or other person using profane, vulgar, or boisterous language at any meeting, or otherwise interrupting the proceedings, or who refuses to be seated, or cease his remarks when ordered so to do by the mayor or mayor pro tem, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

During the first in-person meeting in about a year, on Tuesday (April 6), Council unanimously approved repealing the outdated item, but not without several speakers first questioning the timing.

“It’s a remarkable coincidence that we’re dealing with this tonight,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said.

The timeliness of the action is noteworthy considering council unanimously agreed on March 9 to censure Councilmember Peter Blake for violation of the Rules of Decorum and Civility. Several instances during city meetings were cited, as well as comments made outside official meetings, when Blake used slurs or other offensive, disparaging, or derogatory language. 

On Tuesday, several council members and public speakers mentioned the recent censure and Blake’s language.

While Iseman recalled some of the concerns residents and friends have raised for her safety as a result of being a primary “target” of Blake’s comments, Blake interrupted and called it outrageous slander.

“This is absurd,” he said.

Mayor Bob Whalen had staff mute Blake, who was participating in the meeting over the phone since he was out of town. 

She’s dealt with “aggression and hostility” in the past, Iseman continued. Members of the public have also dealt with it. It’s wrong and it has to stop, she said.

“Maybe the reasonable thing would be to come up with something that would be not from the 50s but from this year that addresses this conduct,” Iseman suggested.

Council repeals Peter Blake

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Submitted photo

Councilmember Peter Blake

A few residents spoke during comment and also questioned the timing.

“I’m baffled as to why this one particular ordinance review is coming up tonight,” Michele Monda said. “Why this one particular ordinance, out of all the outdated ordinances, this is the one that needs fixing?”

The proper time to do address this provision, which should have come up naturally during the research, would have been when the council was discussing the decorum and civility policy. 

Blake’s recent censure was for the specific behavior and language this ordinance addresses, Monda pointed out. If reviewing outdated sections of the code, all of them need to be scrutinized. A working group considering all of the ordinances in an orderly fashion would better serve the public, she said.

“You are not even giving the appearance of trying to clean up outdated ordinances, but just cherry picking this one. What’s the purpose of that?” she said. “Is this ordinance elimination a means to give cover to misbehaving city council members? Specifically Peter Blake? It sure looks that way.”

Blake could be heard laughing as Monda finished her comments.

“Peter, I don’t appreciate that disrespectful snark,” she said. 

Anne Caenn said she was surprised about the repeal of this coming on the heels of Blake’s censure. She suggested a revision rather than a repeal.

“Why, after almost 70 years, Council is now considering a repeal?” she questioned.

City Attorney Phil Kohn said this was brought to staff’s attention after members of the Council were previously asked to invoke this provision to initiate criminal proceedings for the use of language.

During public comment, Chris Catsimanes said he was one of the residents that asked about it being reviewed. If it’s not enforceable then just take it off so residents “don’t have a false sense of hope.” 

Kohn said the timing, in relation to the recent censure of Blake, was entirely coincidental.

Whalen said he brought the item up with staff several months ago, well before the censure motion, after residents kept mentioning the provision. They discussed why it was unenforceable and Whalen suggested it be removed from the code.

“It got in the normal queue of things to get done and it came here tonight,” Whalen said. It’s “completely unrelated to the censure, nothing to do with it.” 

City Manager John Pietig said the timing of the item has more to do with logistics than anything else.

“The timing is, frankly, because there’s no appeals on the agenda tonight,” Pietig said. “Nothing else to it other than that.”

Kohn recommended that the provision be repealed because he believes that statutory developments and court decisions since the provision’s adoption render it unenforceable as to “profane, vulgar, or boisterous language,” according to the staff report.

It is their position that the provision is “invalid and unenforceable,” Kohn said.

“I say that principally because since the time that the provision was adopted (1953)…there’s been a number of changes in law, as one might expect,” Kohn said.

Kohn pointed out that there have been at least two federal court of appeal cases that considered remarkably similar ordinances, and both were found to be an unconstitutional restraint on first amendment rights.

The key feature of this provision is that it makes the use of certain language criminal, Kohn explained. It does not say that is it is not otherwise addressable through other means, which, for Laguna Beach, is through the Rules of Decorum and Civility. That policy contains the remedies available to deal with those situations.

There are other remedies, Kohn said, in the rare, if not unprecedented event, that the language is also accompanied by behavior that rises to the level of a disturbance that actually interferes with or impedes the ability of the City Council to conduct official business in an orderly manner.

“The use of language, in and of itself, in my belief, as expressed in this code section, does not support the initiation of criminal proceedings,” Kohn said. 

Councilmember George Weiss asked about other possible ways to enforce rules on language.

“We are throwing this out, so there’s really no recourse other than censure for the use of foul language,” Weiss said. “I find that difficult to understand, in that we should have something.”

Weiss, who said he stands by bringing the censure forward, “reluctantly” voted for the repeal but suggested that the council needs stronger rules of decorum.

People speaking out about him don’t like the fact that he represents a group of residents that don’t have a voice in the community, Blake said. He’s not even sure he’s ever used foul language while in council chambers, he added.

“We’re witnessing cancel culture at its best right now,” he said. “This is less than 30 days since I became the punching bag over the censure charade, now all of a sudden I’m becoming the punching bag one more time.”

Reiterating what he said during the meeting when he was censured, Blake said nothing in his behavior or language will change.

“It’s going to get 10 times worse, mark my words,” Blake said.


Council considers repealing dated vulgar language provision, new contracted trolley operator, city hall security enhancements

By SARA HALL

A number of noteworthy items are on the City Council’s agenda tonight (April 6), including: Repealing a dated language provision; contracting trolley operating services; adding security enhancements to city hall; code and Local Coastal Program changes related to accessory dwelling units; and an update and proposed plan modification regarding repairs at Laguna Canyon Channel.

Earlier in the day, council will also discuss an update to the city’s Housing Element in a joint workshop with the Planning Commission.

Possibly the most interesting item during regular business is the proposed repeal of a municipal code provision from 1953 that criminalizes the use of certain language at City Council meetings.

The provision reads: “Any member of the council, or other person using profane, vulgar, or boisterous language at any meeting, or otherwise interrupting the proceedings, or who refuses to be seated, or cease his remarks when ordered so to do by the mayor or mayor pro tem, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

“Some residents have suggested that if the provision is unenforceable, then it should be removed from the Municipal Code,” the staff report reads.

Upon review, City Attorney Phil Kohn recommended that the provision be repealed. “I believe the subject provisions to be unenforceable because of statutory and case law developments after the provisions were adopted,” Kohn stated by email on Thursday.

“Council members and members of the public are given a wide berth for the content of their speech, particularly absent a showing that their statements create an imminent danger to the peaceful conduct of the meeting,” the report reads.

They are also provided specific protection by the Brown Act for criticism of policies, procedures, programs, and services, or acts or omissions of the council.

“For disorderly behavior to be punished as a criminal offense, the behavior must rise to the level of a disturbance that actually interferes with or impedes the ability of the City Council to conduct official business in an orderly manner,” according to the staff report.

Following warnings from the presiding officer, the Brown Act also allows for disruptive members of the public to be removed from a meeting. In severe instances, the California Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor for any person to “willfully disturb or break up” a meeting, which offenses could be cited by the Laguna Beach Police Department upon witnessing the incident, the report explains. 

If approved, the listed section of municipal code will be deleted in its entirety.

The action is noteworthy considering council unanimously agreed on March 9 to censure Councilmember Peter Blake for violation of the Rules of Decorum and Civility. Several instances during city meetings were cited, as well as comments made outside official meetings, when Blake used slurs or other offensive, disparaging, or derogatory language.

Council considers trolley

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider a contract for a trolley operator

Also tonight (April 6), council will consider awarding a contract with LAZ Parking in an amount not to exceed $1,931,435 for trolley operations for an initial five-year term with two, three-year option terms. It’s subject to annual budget approval.

“The trolley system is an integral part of the city’s parking management plan and helps reduce downtown parking demand and traffic congestion by allowing visitors to utilize peripheral parking lots and ride the trolley throughout the city,” the staff report reads.

Historically, the city has hired part-time employees to serve as trolley drivers and dispatchers. Many are school bus drivers who work for the city on weekends and during the summer break, which can lead to scheduling and staffing challenges at the end of summer and non-summer weekends. As a result, recruitment and management has become increasingly challenging and time-consuming for city staff.

Due to changes in minimum wage and labor regulations, as well as staffing challenges related to using part-time employees well over part-time hours, staff believes that additional full-time city employees would be required for the city to continue to successfully operate the trolley service in-house.

The contractor plans to hire at least eight full-time employees, in addition to part-time and seasonal staff.

“Shifting to a contracted services model will significantly reduce the administrative burden related to seasonal hiring, as well as processing biweekly timesheets for 90 to 100 employees, freeing up resources in the city’s Finance and Human Resources divisions,” the staff report reads. 

The city would continue to hire part-time seasonal trolley ambassadors who provide directions at peripheral parking lots, major trolley stops, and onboard trolleys during the summer. A full-time transit supervisor would also be hired to oversee the contractor’s day-to-day operations, ensure compliance with required performance measures, respond to customer comments, and oversee the ambassadors and fueler/washers.

Contracted services would also allow increased flexibility to adjust staffing levels when necessary to meet service demand, while also reducing the city’s risk related to accident, injury, and worker’s compensation claims.

“Shifting from an in-house to a contracted trolley operation offers several benefits,” the staff report reads. “Working with a contracted operator will allow the city to continue to operate a reliable, cost-effective transit system using a staffing model that better aligns with the current scope of the city’s trolley services, which has grown significantly during the past 10 years.”

Council directed staff on August 11 to issue a request for bids for a contracted trolley operator. The trolleys would continue to be owned and maintained by the city, but operated by contract employees.

In addition to the regular Canyon, Coastal, and Summer Breeze routes, council directed staff to start a pilot program in fall for on-demand residential transit service in lieu of hourly trolley service on the Top of the World, Arch Beach Heights, and Bluebird Canyon neighborhood routes.

If approved, LAZ would begin operating the trolley service on June 25.

Council considers City Hall

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Security enhancements at city hall, including cameras and key card door locks, are on the consent calendar for tonight’s (April 6) Council meeting

Earlier during tonight’s meeting (April 6), on the consent calendar, council will consider awarding a $167,496 contract along with $17,000 (about 10 percent of the contract) for project-related expenses and change orders, for security improvements at city hall and 679 Ocean Ave.

The contract is with Am-Tech Security & Network Solutions, Inc., which submitted the lower of the two qualified bids (by about $27,000). Am-Tech has about 38 years of experience and provides similar services for several other Southern California cities, according to the staff report.

Following a 2019 building vulnerability assessment for the two locations, police and other authorities made several recommendations.

Staff published a request for proposals in December for security improvements including installing 23 security cameras located in the buildings’ interior and exterior and 37 key card door locks.

During regular business, council will also consider an ordinance to repeal and replace the Municipal Code chapter relating to accessory dwelling units, which would amend the city’s Local Coastal Program and request certification by the California Coastal Commission.

Sections of the city’s ADU ordinance are inconsistent with some updated state laws. Staff prepared an updated draft of the ADU ordinance, which was modified and approved by the Planning Commission on March 3.

Also on the agenda is an update to repairs at Laguna Canyon Channel along Frontage Road.

Recommendation includes directing staff to pursue the enhanced aesthetics improvements along the Laguna Canyon Channel between Frontage Road and Woodland Drive with the County of Orange and return to the City Council with the cooperative agreement to implement and fund the improvements. 

The item also includes directing staff not to pursue covering the portion of Laguna Canyon Channel between Frontage Road and Woodland Drive due to the high estimated cost of $8 million.

The regular meeting will be preceded by a joint City Council and Planning Commission Workshop to discuss Laguna Beach’s Housing Element.

The city is currently in the process of updating its Housing Element for the planning cycle of 2021-2029, which must be certified by the State Department of Housing and Community Development by October 15. The draft document is being presented on tonight (April 6) for preliminary comments and input. The final adoption will happen sometime this summer.

The joint workshop agenda is available online here. The meeting starts at 3 p.m. To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call (669) 900-9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 95340580634#. 

The regular Council agenda is available online here. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call (669) 900-9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 98119947004#. 

Both meetings can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas.

You may speak in person in Council Chambers by entering the chambers through the rear door, speak on your subject of interest, and immediately exit through the front door. A face covering must be worn while in the chambers, including while speaking.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA, 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on April 5 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments. 

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. on April 6 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on April 6, the council members may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.


Council considers repealing dated vulgar language provision, new contracted trolley operator, city hall security enhancements

By SARA HALL

A number of noteworthy items are on the City Council April 6 agenda, including: Repealing a dated language provision; contracting trolley operating services; adding security enhancements to city hall; code and Local Coastal Program changes related to accessory dwelling units; and an update and proposed plan modification regarding repairs at Laguna Canyon Channel.

Earlier in the day, council will also discuss an update to the city’s Housing Element in a joint workshop with the Planning Commission.

Possibly the most interesting item during regular business is the proposed repeal of a municipal code provision from 1953 that criminalizes the use of certain language at City Council meetings.

The provision reads: “Any member of the council, or other person using profane, vulgar, or boisterous language at any meeting, or otherwise interrupting the proceedings, or who refuses to be seated, or cease his remarks when ordered so to do by the mayor or mayor pro tem, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

“Some residents have suggested that if the provision is unenforceable, then it should be removed from the Municipal Code,” the staff report reads.

Upon review, City Attorney Phil Kohn recommended that the provision be repealed. “I believe the subject provisions to be unenforceable because of statutory and case law developments after the provisions were adopted,” Kohn stated by email on Thursday.

“Council members and members of the public are given a wide berth for the content of their speech, particularly absent a showing that their statements create an imminent danger to the peaceful conduct of the meeting,” the report reads.

They are also provided specific protection by the Brown Act for criticism of policies, procedures, programs, and services, or acts or omissions of the council.

“For disorderly behavior to be punished as a criminal offense, the behavior must rise to the level of a disturbance that actually interferes with or impedes the ability of the City Council to conduct official business in an orderly manner,” according to the staff report.

Following warnings from the presiding officer, the Brown Act also allows for disruptive members of the public to be removed from a meeting. In severe instances, the California Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor for any person to “willfully disturb or break up” a meeting, which offenses could be cited by the Laguna Beach Police Department upon witnessing the incident, the report explains. 

If approved, the listed section of municipal code will be deleted in its entirety.

The action is noteworthy considering council unanimously agreed on March 9 to censure Councilmember Peter Blake for violation of the Rules of Decorum and Civility. Several instances during city meetings were cited, as well as comments made outside official meetings, when Blake used slurs or other offensive, disparaging, or derogatory language.

Council considers trolley

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Council will consider a contract for a trolley operator

Also on Tuesday, council will consider awarding a contract with LAZ Parking in an amount not to exceed $1,931,435 for trolley operations for an initial five-year term with two, three-year option terms. It’s subject to annual budget approval.

“The trolley system is an integral part of the city’s parking management plan and helps reduce downtown parking demand and traffic congestion by allowing visitors to utilize peripheral parking lots and ride the trolley throughout the city,” the staff report reads.

Historically, the city has hired part-time employees to serve as trolley drivers and dispatchers. Many are school bus drivers who work for the city on weekends and during the summer break, which can lead to scheduling and staffing challenges at the end of summer and non-summer weekends. As a result, recruitment and management has become increasingly challenging and time-consuming for city staff.

Due to changes in minimum wage and labor regulations, as well as staffing challenges related to using part-time employees well over part-time hours, staff believes that additional full-time city employees would be required for the city to continue to successfully operate the trolley service in-house.

The contractor plans to hire at least eight full-time employees, in addition to part-time and seasonal staff.

“Shifting to a contracted services model will significantly reduce the administrative burden related to seasonal hiring, as well as processing biweekly timesheets for 90 to 100 employees, freeing up resources in the city’s Finance and Human Resources divisions,” the staff report reads. 

The city would continue to hire part-time seasonal trolley ambassadors who provide directions at peripheral parking lots, major trolley stops, and onboard trolleys during the summer. A full-time transit supervisor would also be hired to oversee the contractor’s day-to-day operations, ensure compliance with required performance measures, respond to customer comments, and oversee the ambassadors and fueler/washers.

Contracted services would also allow increased flexibility to adjust staffing levels when necessary to meet service demand, while also reducing the city’s risk related to accident, injury, and worker’s compensation claims.

“Shifting from an in-house to a contracted trolley operation offers several benefits,” the staff report reads. “Working with a contracted operator will allow the city to continue to operate a reliable, cost-effective transit system using a staffing model that better aligns with the current scope of the city’s trolley services, which has grown significantly during the past 10 years.”

Council directed staff on August 11 to issue a request for bids for a contracted trolley operator. The trolleys would continue to be owned and maintained by the city, but operated by contract employees.

In addition to the regular Canyon, Coastal, and Summer Breeze routes, council directed staff to start a pilot program in fall for on-demand residential transit service in lieu of hourly trolley service on the Top of the World, Arch Beach Heights, and Bluebird Canyon neighborhood routes.

If approved, LAZ would begin operating the trolley service on June 25.

Council considers City Hall

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Security enhancements at city hall, including cameras and key card door locks, are on the consent calendar for Tuesday’s Council meeting

Earlier during Tuesday’s meeting, on the consent calendar, council will consider awarding a $167,496 contract along with $17,000 (about 10 percent of the contract) for project-related expenses and change orders, for security improvements at city hall and 679 Ocean Ave.

The contract is with Am-Tech Security & Network Solutions, Inc., which submitted the lower of the two qualified bids (by about $27,000). Am-Tech has about 38 years of experience and provides similar services for several other Southern California cities, according to the staff report.

Following a 2019 building vulnerability assessment for the two locations, police and other authorities made several recommendations.

Staff published a request for proposals in December for security improvements including installing 23 security cameras located in the buildings’ interior and exterior and 37 key card door locks.

During regular business, council will also consider an ordinance to repeal and replace the Municipal Code chapter relating to accessory dwelling units, which would amend the city’s Local Coastal Program and request certification by the California Coastal Commission.

Sections of the city’s ADU ordinance are inconsistent with some updated state laws. Staff prepared an updated draft of the ADU ordinance, which was modified and approved by the Planning Commission on March 3.

Also on the agenda is an update to repairs at Laguna Canyon Channel along Frontage Road.

Recommendation includes directing staff to pursue the enhanced aesthetics improvements along the Laguna Canyon Channel between Frontage Road and Woodland Drive with the County of Orange and return to the City Council with the cooperative agreement to implement and fund the improvements. 

The item also includes directing staff not to pursue covering the portion of Laguna Canyon Channel between Frontage Road and Woodland Drive due to the high estimated cost of $8 million.

The regular meeting will be preceded by a joint City Council and Planning Commission Workshop to discuss Laguna Beach’s Housing Element.

The city is currently in the process of updating its Housing Element for the planning cycle of 2021-2029, which must be certified by the State Department of Housing and Community Development by October 15. The draft document is being presented on Tuesday for preliminary comments and input. The final adoption will happen sometime this summer.

The joint workshop agenda is available online here. The meeting starts at 3 p.m. To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call (669) 900-9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 95340580634#. 

The regular Council agenda is available online here. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call (669) 900-9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 98119947004#. 

Both meetings can be watched live on Cox channel 852 or on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas.

You may speak in person in Council Chambers by entering the chambers through the rear door, speak on your subject of interest, and immediately exit through the front door. A face covering must be worn while in the chambers, including while speaking.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA, 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on April 5 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments. 

You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. on April 6 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on April 6, the council members may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.


LB Chamber of Commerce to host 3rd annual Golf Tournament on May 17 

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce will host its 3rd annual Golf Tournament presented by Julie Laughton Design Build on Monday, May 17, at the beautiful Aliso Viejo Country Club. 

Located in the hills of Saddleback Valley and surrounded by spectacular views of pristine mountain ranges and picturesque valleys, Aliso Viejo Country Club is an oasis from the fast-paced life of Orange County. 

The proceeds from the event will benefit the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce, a vital business and community advocate.

LB Chamber field

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

2nd annual Golf Tournament held in 2019 

Golf Tournament tickets are going fast at the low price of $175 for individual golfers, $700 for foursomes. The Chamber promises all participants a fun day of golfing, networking opportunities, prize-winning chances, and delicious dining options.

“We are anticipating a sold-out tournament this year,” said Sandy Morales, President & CEO of the Laguna Beach Chamber. “We are very thankful that Julie Laughton Design Build has decided to be our presenting sponsor!”    

LB Chamber tent

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Guests enjoying the 2019 tournament 

Contests and surprises will be offered throughout the day and participants will have the opportunity to “Beat a Pro.” There will also be a raffle and silent auction featuring amazing items donated by generous Chamber members and sponsors. Starting with Bloody Mary’s and ending with a lovely dinner, you will not want to miss this amazing day. 

To reserve your spot or become a sponsor, click here.


Council shifting to hybrid in-person meetings, approves community, cultural arts grants

By SARA HALL

City Council will be returning to hybrid in-person meetings next month, following a decision on the format this week.

They voted 4-1, with Councilmember Toni Iseman dissenting, during a virtual meeting on Tuesday. 

There was a general consensus that it’s time for them to get back into council chambers.

“I think it does benefit us as a group, as a body, to be in person and deliberating items,” said Mayor Bob Whalen.

Many other local cities are moving into a hybrid format like this, if they haven’t already, he said.

“We’re sort of following the trend here,” Whalen said.

As of March 14, after meeting several metrics over the last few weeks, Orange County officially entered the less restrictive COVID-19 red tier. Under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county had to meet several metrics to move down a level.

On January 12, Council discussed meeting format and decided to continue virtual meetings until OC enters the orange tier, which could happen in the next few weeks if trends hold.

Staff presented three format options on Tuesday.

Council chose the second option, which offers a hybrid of virtual and in-person meetings. At a cost of about $6,500, plexiglass will be added to the dais to separate the council members and key staff, so they would not be required to wear a face covering while participating in the meeting. Five tables will be placed in the chambers for the key staff (city manager, assistant city manager, city treasurer, city clerk, and city attorney). Supporting staff will still present via Zoom. 

Members of the public will be allowed to enter the chambers to speak on any item while wearing masks, standing in line, and following physical distancing protocol. Public speakers will enter the chambers through the rear door, provide their comments, and then immediately exit through the front door. After exiting the room, people will have to use their cell phones to listen in or participate in the meeting (or wait until they have access to a television or laptop). 

The third choice included everything mentioned in the second option, but also offered very limited seating for members of the public. 

Option one would have continued virtual meetings until the county moves into the yellow tier. 

Council shifting plexiglass

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Courtesy of City of LB

The proposed plexiglass option for council chambers

There were a few comments about ensuring that everyone is vaccinated before returning to chambers. 

“I have no issue with going up to the dais, but I do have an issue with being in that room with people who are not vaccinated,” Councilmember Peter Blake said. “I don’t want to be in there wearing a mask for six or seven hours with people who are not vaccinated.”

By a show of hands, each council member voluntarily confirmed they had been vaccinated.

Most council members favored returning to a more formal and controlled setting. 

There are distractions during a virtual meeting and people have complained about council members or panelists not paying attention, eating, or going off camera, said Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf. As an unexpected example, a few minutes later during the discussion, a doorbell could be heard. 

“We’re just getting a little bit too loose on Zoom,” Kempf said. “I think it’s better for us to be back in a very structured environment.”

The closed-door meetings need to be in person to ensure the discussions are confidential, she added.

Although not everyone was ready to return to the dais.

“I think it’s premature and I would favor waiting until we can actually allow people in the council chambers that can prove they’ve been vaccinated and we can have more public participation,” Iseman said.

They should wait until the county reaches the next tier and any new guidelines are announced, Iseman suggested. 

“We don’t know where we’re going to be in a month or two months,” Iseman said. “Why should we go to the trouble of setting up this whole thing and even suggesting to people there’s value in coming downtown if they have to leave the room [after commenting]?”

Council shifting Sawdust

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Photo by Scott Brashier

Booths at the Sawdust Arts Festival, a recipient of both the Community Assistance and Cultural Arts Funding grants

Also on Tuesday, Council reviewed, modified, and approved recommendations made by the subcommittee regarding Community Assistance grants and the Arts Commission recommended allocations for Cultural Arts Funding grants.

“Hopefully that money will support a lot of those organizations and get them through what we hope is the end of the worst phase of the pandemic,” Whalen said.

Council unanimously approved the recommended grants, and decided to split the $5,500 contingency for the Community Assistance grants between three organizations.

The grants provide annual support to nonprofit organizations in Laguna Beach that offer services and programs for the community. This year, the council is expediting the granting process and has allocated $250,000 for Community Assistance, funded annually through the Pageant of the Masters ticket sales (with the 2020 show canceled, the city allocated the funds from its General Fund Reserve), and $200,000 for Cultural Arts, funded through the LB Marketing and Tourism District ($60,000 in deficit was made up through savings in LB Cares grants, also funded through the Reserve).

Out of the 34 applicants, 28 organizations were recommended for the Community Assistance grants. The two largest are for $25,000 each, for the Boys & Girls Club of LB and the LB Community Clinic. Some of the other approved grants include: $20,000 to LB Seniors, Inc.; $15,000 to the La Playa Center; and $10,000 to both the Chamber of Commerce and the Laguna Food Pantry. 

There were 16 Cultural Arts grant applicants and the Arts Commission recommended 14 be funded. One of the largest is to the Festival of Arts for $35,000. Some of the others include: $5,000 to Laguna Community Concert Band; $4,000 to LB Cultural Arts Center; and $3,000 to LagunaTunes!

Organizations recommended on both grant lists include: Sawdust Arts Festival ($13,000 and $35,000); No Square Theatre ($20,000 and $28,000); Laguna Beach Live! ($16,000 and $28,000); Laguna Plein Air Painters Association ($10,000 and $18,000); Laguna Outreach Community Arts (LOCA) Education ($7,000 and $16,000); Laguna Dance Festival (5,000 and $18,000); KX 93.5 FM Radio, Inc., ($15,000 and $4,000); and Laguna Community Concert Band ($6,000 and $5,000).

The $5,500 contingency for the Community Assistance grants was split between a few organizations: $1,000 to the HIV Advisory Committee, an additional $2,500 to the Laguna Food Pantry, and an additional $2,000 to the Laguna Ocean Foundation.

Council agreed to spend a little of the contingency on the Food Pantry because the group has been helping so many people during pandemic.

“I would like to see more money go to the Pantry, especially given it’s a time when people are trying to feed themselves,” Blake said.

Iseman suggested the HIV Advisory Committee receive some funds from the contingency as well.

The group didn’t provide a number for how many people they directly served, which was the reason Councilmember George Weiss explained as to why they were left off the recommended list. Police liaison Lt. Tim Kleiser said Tuesday that about 80 percent to 90 percent of the funds go to the local clinic, prompting Council to use some of the contingency funds.

Some additional contingency funds were also added to the recommended $4,000 for the Laguna Ocean Foundation specifically because of the organization’s work on the Aliso Creek Estuary Restoration project.

Other organizations didn’t state valid justification or explanation of how the funds would be used, Weiss explained. There also needs to be verification from schools or the district for any programs or projects that claim to be working with LBUSD. 

Weiss also suggested that if a group previously received funds, they should explain how the money was used and who benefited.

Blake was disappointed to see the Chamber of Commerce receive less this year (compared to 2020/21), while other groups, like No Square Theatre, receive large amounts from the two grant categories combined. 

No Square Theater indicated in the application that they continue to have rent obligations and no revenue, so there’s some significant financial strain, Whalen said.

“I can’t imagine paying the rent right now on a closed theater when people are hungry and businesses are closing,” Blake said.

Several organizations, like No Square Theatre, are getting two different grants.

“Is that fair?” Weiss questioned. “A substantial amount of money goes to those (select groups).”

Whalen and Weiss didn’t see the Cultural Arts Funding grant recommendations by the time they reviewed the Community Assistance grant applications.

“We only saw half the ledger,” Whalen said. 

The overlap happens every year, said Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, but in the future staff can ensure the council members on the subcommittee see the Arts Commission’s recommendations prior to their own review and recommendations of the Community Assistance grants. Council members supported the change in process.


Laura Dunaway retires from City of Laguna Beach Animal Shelter after 35 years of service

After 35 years of working at the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter, Laura Dunaway will begin a well-deserved retirement on March 28 so she can spend more time with her grandchildren, husband of 37 years, dog, two cats, and a bearded dragon. 

Laura began her lifelong career working with animals when she was 17 years old, working for a Laguna Beach veterinarian. A couple of years later, Laura moved to Kerrville, Texas, where she worked for a wildlife veterinarian before becoming an animal control officer for two years. 

Laura Dunaway dogs

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Submitted photo

Laura Dunaway retires from Laguna Beach Animal Shelter after 35 years of service

In 1986, Laura moved back to Southern California and started to work for the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter. While working at the shelter, Laura experienced several major floods and fires, including the 1993 Laguna Beach fire that required the rapid evacuation of the animals to safer locations. Laura also assisted with the extensive remodel of the shelter in 2011 which enlarged the public lobby, staff office, and pet kennels. 

During Laura’s service as an Animal Care Specialist, she has worked tirelessly to make sure the animals were fed, walked, and taken care of. For 35 years, Laura has often put the welfare of the animals ahead of her own. A truly dedicated professional and animal lover, Laura will be missed by her colleagues and shelter volunteers.


Council to discuss hospital safety, meeting format, community grants at tonight’s meeting

By SARA HALL

Safety enhancements at Mission Hospital, City Council meeting format, and community and cultural arts grants will all be discussed at a meeting tonight (Tuesday, March 23). 

Up first during City Council’s regular business tonight will be a presentation from Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach regarding proposed safety enhancements at their lower campus, medical office buildings, and parking areas.

The security changes come after former Laguna Beach resident Judie Dike was carjacked in the lower-level parking lot at Mission Hospital in October. Dike, who currently lives in Laguna Niguel, urged the city to take action. She requested cameras be installed after speaking about the incident during a February 9 Council meeting.

“I don’t want this to happen to someone else,” she said at the meeting.

Dike was leaving the hospital after an appointment when a woman accosted her as she was getting into her vehicle. The woman had exited through an offshoot of the lot – a door that leads from the ER, the psychiatric and psychological treatment center, and Chemical Dependency Treatment Center – directly into the lower parking lot. 

The woman, who claimed to have a knife and a gun, grabbed Dike’s purse. She jumped into Dike’s car and started to quickly back up. Dike, who was caught by the open door, hit her head on the pavement and was nearly ran over. 

The woman sped off as a nearby couple came to Dike’s aid. It took about 20 minutes for the guard to show up, who then had to check with a supervisor before calling 911, Dike said. Police pinged her phone and tracked the suspect to San Diego, where they arrested Madison Root of Rancho Santa Fe.

Since the incident, Dike has urged hospital administrators to install cameras and increase security measures.

Council to discuss Mission Hospital

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut 

Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach will present proposed safety enhancements to City Council

Also on the agenda tonight, City Council will review their meeting format and consider changes for future meetings.

As of March 14, after meeting several metrics over the last few weeks, Orange County officially entered the less restrictive COVID-19 red tier. Under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county had to meet several metrics to move down a level.

On January 12, Council discussed meeting format and decided to continue virtual meetings until OC enters the orange tier, which could happen in the next few weeks if trends hold.

Staff will present three options on Tuesday for Council to consider.

Option one would mean continuing virtual meetings until the county moves into the yellow tier. Council members could participate in the chambers while wearing a mask, but no in-person public participation would be permitted.

The second option offers a hybrid of virtual and in-person meetings. At a cost of about $6,500, plexiglass would be added to the dais to separate the council members and key staff, so they would not be required to wear a face covering while participating in the meeting. Five tables would be placed in the chambers for other key staff (city manager, assistant city manager, city treasurer, city clerk, and city attorney). Members of the public would be allowed to enter the chambers to speak on any item while wearing masks, standing in line, and following physical distancing protocol. 

Under this option, the public would enter the chambers through the rear door, provide their comments, and then immediately exit through the front door. After exiting the room, people would have to use their cell phones to listen in or participate in the meeting (or wait until they have access to a television or laptop). 

The third choice includes everything mentioned in the second option, but would also offer very limited seating for members of the public. Up to 15 individual chairs would be spaced six to eight feet apart in the back of council chambers. All members of the public would be required to wear face coverings while in the chambers.

Council to discuss plexiglass option

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Courtesy of City of LB

The proposed plexiglass option for council chambers

Also tonight, Council will review and approve or modify the recommendations made by the subcommittee regarding Community Assistance grants and the Arts Commission recommended allocations for Cultural Arts Funding grants.

The grants provide annual support to nonprofit organizations in Laguna Beach that offer services and programs for the community. This year, the council is expediting the granting process and has allocated $250,000 for Community Assistance, funded annually through the Pageant of the Masters ticket sales (with the 2020 show canceled, the city allocated the funds from its General Fund Reserve), and $200,000 for Cultural Arts, funded through the LB Marketing and Tourism District ($60,000 in deficit was made up through savings in LB Cares grants, also funded through the Reserve).

Out of the 34 applicants, 28 organizations are being recommended for the Community Assistance grants. The two largest recommendations are for $25,000 each, for the Boys & Girls Club of LB and the LB Community Clinic. Some of the other recommendations include: $20,000 to LB Seniors, Inc.; $15,000 to the La Playa Center; and $10,000 to both the Chamber of Commerce and the Laguna Food Pantry. 

There were 16 Cultural Arts grant applicants and the Arts Commission is recommending 14 be funded. One of the largest recommended grants is to the Festival of Arts for $35,000. Some of the other recommendations include: $5,000 to Laguna Community Concert Band; $4,000 to LB Cultural Arts Center; and $3,000 to LagunaTunes!

Organizations recommended on both grant lists include: Sawdust Arts Festival ($13,000 and $35,000); No Square Theatre ($20,000 and $28,000); Laguna Beach Live! ($16,000 and $28,000); Laguna Plein Air Painters Association ($10,000 and $18,000); Laguna Outreach Community Arts (LOCA) Education ($7,000 and $16,000); Laguna Dance Festival (5,000 and $18,000); KX 93.5 FM Radio, Inc., ($15,000 and $4,000); and Laguna Community Concert Band ($6,000 and $5,000).

The agenda is available online here. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. To participate via Zoom, you may click here from your computer or smart phone. You may also call (669) 900-9128 and wait for instructions. The Webinar ID is 98016151822#. The meeting can also be watched live on Cox channel 852.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA, 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form: www.lagunabeachcity.net/comment. Email your comments to the City Clerk no later than 3 p.m. on March 22 (the day before the City Council meeting) in order for your comments to be submitted to the members of the City Council the day prior the meeting, which provides them sufficient time to review the comments. You may continue to provide written comments up to 12 p.m. on March 23 (the day of the meeting). While these comments will be provided to the City Council at 2 p.m. on March 23, the Council members may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.


Council censures Blake for violations to Rules of Decorum and Civility

By SARA HALL

Laguna Beach City Council unanimously agreed this week to censure Councilmember Peter Blake.

After about two hours of discussion and public comment on Tuesday (March 9), Council voted 4-0-1 for the censure, with Blake choosing to abstain. 

“This is a kangaroo court and I don’t have to vote,” Blake concluded. 

There is zero chance the censure will stop him or what little restraint he has, Blake said. He argued that he was defending himself and that his comments were in response to remarks made toward him first. If those types of disparaging comments about him continue, he will continue to counter, Blake said.

“This will continue and you can censure me 100 times between now and the date we meet back at the ballot box,” Blake said. “It means nothing.”

He used to be a calm person, Blake said. But once he got into politics, he was pushed into becoming a person that had to fight back. 

“Most people, when they watched me during the campaign, they understood why I had to fight the way I had to fight,” because he was up against bullies, Blake said. “It’s not like I played Mr. Statesman and then became Mr. Monster; I was Mr. Monster from the day this started. And there were people in this community that had had enough, and they saw someone that was going to fight on their behalf and that’s all I’ve ever done.”

Since getting elected, he said he’s behaved as the same person who voters knew during the campaign, and he’s retaliated when he felt the need to defend himself. The censure is an attempt to put a stain on his reputation, Blake said.

“They have the nerve to call me a bully. All I’ve ever done is defend myself and defend the rights of the people that voted for me,” Blake said. “I am their voice and I have to, some way or another, speak up for these people who haven’t had a voice for a long time.”

Council censurces Peter Blake

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Submitted photo

Councilmember Peter Blake

Councilmember George Weiss requested the censure based on two categories of “unprofessional acts” that violate the Rules of Decorum and Civility policy. In his request, Weiss notes several instances during city meetings, posts on social media, and comments on newspaper articles when Blake used slurs or other offensive, disparaging, or derogatory language.

Weiss reasoned that Council members should be held to a higher standard.

There are plenty of unprovoked examples, Councilmember Toni Iseman said. They can’t excuse his behavior, she said.

This is the first time the Council has had to enforce the civility policy since its adoption in 2019. 

This is also reportedly the first time in the city’s history that a Laguna Beach City Council member has been censured. A handful of longtime residents and former council members told Stu News Laguna that this is the first case for censure they can remember.

A censure by City Council is to be “treated as an official expression of disapproval or criticism.” There is no fine, suspension, loss of compensation or benefits, or any other form of penalty or discipline. 

“I hope we just put this behind us,” said Mayor Bob Whalen, although he admitted that he didn’t think the censure was going to change much.

“I agree with Peter on a lot of political issues, so this is not about trying to quell his speech or his viewpoints or take political sides,” Whalen said. “It’s really just about how you communicate your views and how you treat people who come before the council.”

Over his two decades in the political realm, Whalen has noticed a change in civility.

“It’s gotten extraordinarily ugly,” over the last few years, Whalen said.

“I guess I’m the person that gave birth to this, in a way, because I put together these policies of rules of decorum and civility,” Whalen said. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I think we should have standards.”

It’s important that they stand by the policy, Whalen said. As elected officials they should rise above any of the “nastiness” or negative comments directed at them. Some can ignore it and let it roll of their back, but there are a lot of ugly and unfair things said about all elected officials. 

“Peter’s taken the brunt of a lot of it, and, I think, some of it unfairly,” Whalen said.

There is some “sport” in trying to antagonize and get a reaction from him, Whalen said.

There has been yelling and offensive remarks on both sides, agreed Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf.

“People have baited him a bit and he’s baited other people, so it’s a two-way street,” Kempf said. “We’re a beautiful city, we have a beautiful community, but…we’ve got a toxic stew going on here for a number of reasons.”

Kempf said she told Blake she doesn’t like the language he has used, and suggested he stay off social media and not to engage in the “back and forth,” which is not useful. There can be constructive conversations and disagreements without the “nasty blowouts,” she said. 

“I don’t like it. I want this to stop, I don’t think it’s going to stop, but I can only control what I do,” Kempf said.

Council centures vehicles

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Signs opposing Blake’s behavior were hung on vehicles parked outside city hall during Tuesday’s Council meeting

On Tuesday, more than two dozen people spoke during public comment, most in support of the censure.

They called Blake’s behavior “boorish,” “repugnant,” “vile,” “appalling,” and “childish.” Council members, or other city leaders, should have self-control when dealing and responding to the public, most agreed.

His behavior discourages public input and bullies the residents until they’re too scared to speak up, several noted. Some said they have been the target of Blake’s attacks, which are often personal insults or name-calling.

Many admitted that the action will likely do nothing to curtail Blake’s behavior, but tolerating it is unacceptable.

“What you don’t condemn, you condone,” Michael Morris said. 

Residents have endured enough over the past two years and censure is the right action. Council allowed it to fester and exacerbate, he said.

“The ballot box is not the ultimate solution here,” Morris said. “The people who are always apologizing for despots say that.”

Responding to comments calling the censure and the discussion a waste of time, Johanna Felder noted that it’s what led up to the censure request and Blake’s behavior that caused it. This type of behavior is designed to be noticed, she said, and that’s what has happened.

A few speakers commented on how the censure, and the behavior that led up to the Council’s action, reflects on the city. Laguna Beach deserves better, several agreed. This may offer an opportunity to look at the civility policy and write in some more substantive language.

Campaigning during an election in Laguna Beach shouldn’t include personal attacks or offensive insults. It’s embarrassing, several people agreed.

“We all kind of need to own some of this,” Kempf said. “We can’t even have a civil election in this town. What a joke.”

During the discussion, Blake interrupted a few times, causing Whalen to mute him and a few public speakers, in order to try and keep the comments on topic. Blake was allowed to respond to a few speakers during public testimony as well as after public comments closed.

Speakers opposed to the censure argued that the action essentially censures the residents who voted for him. He gives a voice to them and they deserve to be heard, noted a few speakers. 

Although they may not agree with his style, Blake shakes things up and that’s what they wanted, Bill Shopoff said. Iseman can take care of herself if she feels Blake abused her in some way, he said.

“I don’t always love Councilmember Blake’s style, but I do love, ultimately, the messaging,” Shopoff said.

Several called Weiss and others advocating for censure hypocrites, pointing out their own comments or behavior in the past. The censure is political theater or shenanigans, or an attempt to “cancel” Blake, several stated.

“This is not for the best for Laguna Beach,” India Hynes said. “This, really, is just a political move and only hurts our town.”

This should have been handled off the dais, Cindy Shopoff said. “Go offline and act like adults and handle this in the back room, where it should be handled.”

Others said this should be handled at the ballot box during the next election.

A few noted that the timing, while the city is in the middle of recruiting a new city manager, including Cindy Shopoff.

“This couldn’t have been a worse time to do this,” Kempf said. 

The candidate pool is definitely watching this, she said.


Residents speak up during second City Manager Recruitment Listening Session

By SARA HALL

The second City Manager Recruitment Listening Session quickly got off topic this week after a resident asked about a rumor regarding the relationship between the recruiter and an internal city employee and potential candidate. Once the discussion got back on track, speakers noted that this type of questioning dialogue is a good example of what the new city manager will have to deal with as the top city staffer in Laguna Beach.

Thursday (March 11) was the second of three one-hour virtual town hall meetings with Gary Phillips from the recruiting firm Bob Murray & Associates. The goal was for residents to identify the needs of the community and provide feedback on what traits they would like to see in the next city manager. John Pietig announced earlier this year that he planned to retire in June after two decades with the city. 

Resident Emil Monda was the first to ask about a rumor circulating that Phillips’ wife is friends with Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis. Monda wanted to ask about the relationship so Phillips could address it, they could “put it to bed,” and move on.

“I don’t know how to respond to that, to be honest,” Phillips said. 

Although Phillips didn’t explicitly say the rumor isn’t true, he emphasized that he is heading up the process and his wife is not involved in the Laguna Beach city manager recruitment. 

His wife, Valerie Gaeta Phillips, is president and executive recruiter at the firm. Their knowledge or interaction with Dupuis is through the business and completely professional, Gary Phillips said.

Laguna Beach citizens want to feel confident that the search will be conducted in a fair manner and that the pool of potential candidates presented to City Council will not be influenced by personal relationships, Monda said. 

“I’m not sure where this is trying to go, but the idea that I might or my firm might have some biases is not true,” Phillips said.

Residents speak up Shohreh Dupuis

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Courtesy of the City of LB

Current Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis

It’s very common to have internal candidates, he said. And after 20 years and about 50 city manager recruitments, Phillips has met a lot of people working in government management, and some of them end up being internal candidates in a future recruitment process. 

He is very careful not to ever treat anybody differently simply because he’s had past discussions with them or knows that they’re an internal employee, Phillips said.

“I have relationships with over 200 city managers and city manager candidates, that’s my job,” Phillips said. “I get to know them and I get to know their personalities because part of the job that I have, in trying to assess ‘fit,’ is getting to understand people and learning about the nuances of what their personalities are like, what their strengths are, what their management style is – that’s what people hire me to do, is to bring more than just a resume.”

“My relationship with Shohreh is no different than that,” he said. Same goes for his wife, who also has business relationships with hundreds of people.

Neither he nor his wife have had any discussions with Dupuis since the firm took on the recruitment process, Phillips said.

“Zero conversations,” he said, “because we would never want anybody to think that because I have knowledge of a candidate or I have some kind of professional relationship with an internal that they’re going to get preferential treatment from me. Not going to happen.” 

They wanted clarification of exactly that, Michele Monda said.

“I am very happy that you don’t, obviously, have some kind of conflict of interest,” she said. “And that is exactly why my husband asked the question, because it is going around and we wanted to squelch it.”

City Councilmember Peter Blake commented that the questions are implying some kind of conspiracy, which is simply not true. Based on what Phillips said, they have a professional relationship.

“I can only imagine that they’re just pulling something out of a hat right now and running with it,” Blake said of the speakers asking about the relationship.

He asked Phillips to clarify the relationship between his wife and Dupuis.

“They just know each other professionally from business,” Phillips said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever met other than at the League of Cities conference.” Blake also wondered how this line of questioning will appear to potential city manager candidates.

“I’m listening to all of this because I’m genuinely interested in what our community is looking for out of a city manager,” Blake said. “I’m hearing this and I’m also wondering who are those city managers who might be thinking of applying who are listening…I can only imagine what (they) must be thinking.”

Residents speak up City Hall

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Beach City Hall

The off-topic discussion did lead several speakers to comment that this kind of contentious questioning is a “classic Laguna” example of what the new city manager will need to be good at handling.

Some residents question everything the city does, which makes it complicated to be a city employee, said one speaker. It’s just the way Laguna Beach is, he said. The next city manager needs to be able to accept and live through a barrage of that kind of questioning, he said. And while it’s happening, it’s important that the person not lose his or her cool and remain respectful. 

The right person has to be mature, confident, have thick skin, and choose their battles carefully, agreed Dennis Boyer.

“Listening to the dialogue tonight, two personal characteristics that stand out to me: Diplomatic skills and a thick skin,” Boyer said. “It’s not for the faint of heart to deal with politics in Laguna.”

Some people seem to give lip service to the idea of public input and democracy, said Penny, another local resident, and others revel the type of conversation that came up during Thursday’s meeting. There are lots of mutually supporting and mutually combative, absolutely passionate, and often deeply knowledgeable groups, she said.

“Those who think that that sometimes-fiery engagement is actually a beautiful demonstration of democracy at its best, that kind of person would be a good city manager,” Penny said. “A city manager who actually sees our contentiousness, our engagement, our passion, even our disruptiveness, as a thing of beauty, that would be very good for Laguna.”

Once Phillips got the discussion back on topic, speakers named several of the same traits and characteristics as mentioned during the first listening session on Saturday. Key points that were echoed from Saturday included: Transparency, understanding of various city departments, supervisor skills, ability to delegate, trust the employees and not micro-manage, and someone who can create a conducive work environment.

He or she should also understand that art is an important aspect of the Laguna Beach community, Boyer said. As well as the community’s philanthropic side, he said, noting the number of nonprofits in the city.

The new city manager should also be ready to deal with the affordable housing requirements from the state, and work to protect the open space and beaches in the city.

“We would like a more creative, more Laguna-oriented type of management,” Johanna Felder said. Someone that is “uniquely Laguna.” 

The third and final virtual listening session is scheduled for March 16. 

Tuesday, March 16: 6-7 p.m.

Click here to join the webinar.

Or join by telephone: 

Dial (US): +1 669 900 9128 

Webinar ID: 951 7462 5549 

Additionally, an online public survey regarding the city manager recruitment is now available at the link here.

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