Barbara’s Column

Chamber hosts State of the City Luncheon


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Mayor Bob Whalen combined his dry, sometimes wry, humor and a serious call for a return to civility in public discourse at the annual State of the City luncheon, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce at the Montage on May 3.

Whalen, who has been wearing a brace to stabilize the 11 vertebrae he injured in a fall from a horse, said it might be mistaken for a Kevlar vest – and Kevlar might have been the better choice for some recent council meetings, he said.

“People ask me all the time if [the fall] was painful,” said Whalen. “Quite frankly, it was no more painful that some of our eight-hour council meetings.”

And then he got serious. 

“I am concerned about what I see as the unprecedented nature of personal attacks and efforts by some to embarrass or intimidate either an elected official or a member of the public who does not share their point of view,” said Whalen. “In my opinion, we are spending far too much time attacking one another and too little time attaching the issues and challenges we face as a community. We can do better.

“The council needs to do its part to elevate the quality of the debate by creating an environment in our meeting that allows everyone to speak freely, without fear of intimidation or exclusion and without being demeaned by others because their views are different or unpopular. 

“As the one in charge of running the meeting, I do my best to achieve this standard, but I will redouble my efforts.”

Whalen called on his fellow council members and the community to help meet that goal. 

Chamber hosts trio

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Police Chief Laura Farinella, Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow

He then addressed one of the issues that have caused a major rift in the community: multiple complex developments.

“The pro-development and anti-development sides are girding for battle and hardening viewpoints,” Whalen said. 

He urged both sides to work together to come up with a solution that is “appropriate and smart.” 

“This is not an all or nothing choice,” Whalen said. “It will be about finding the right mix.”

Another issue facing the city is funding to reduce the risks of wildfire. However, Whalen said he is optimistic about the city’s future. The upcoming budget will fund goals such as sidewalks on the highway and resident serving programs financed in part by visitors. 

Whalen was joined on the dais by Police Chief Laura Farinella, Community Development Director Greg Pfost and Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis

Chamber hosts panel

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Development Director Greg Pfost and Police Chief Laura Farinella 

Pfost also addressed development: it’s at the highest level ever, he said. One goal of his department is to ensure that small projects don’t get lost in the cluster of major developments along Coast Highway being proposed by Laguna Beach Co.

He is also working on improvements in the department’s services, such as lessening processing time by having all related departments review the project simultaneously. 

Dupuis has had her hands full coping with the city’s urban forest, determining which trees need to go, may or may not be replaced, and with what, and being second guessed. She is also heavily involved with public works projects that will impact downtown, not to mention the Village Entrance – some 30 years in the making. A film of some of the department projects was shown. 

In addition to those on the dais, the luncheon was attended by council members Toni Iseman, Peter Blake and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow

Dicterow was asked to say a few words of inspiration. He did a dandy job.

During a visit last fall to his native New York, he had occasion to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, not, he said, to be confused with the Bronx Botanical Garden. As he walked, he spotted a rose garden. 

“And I stopped to smell the roses,” said Dicterow. 

Shouldn’t we all?

Chamber hosts JJ

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Chamber of Commerce President J.J. Ballesteros

The luncheon could only be called a success.

“There are more people here that last year and the most ever,” said past chamber President David Rubel. 

Sitting President J.J. Ballesteros welcomed the crowd to the luncheon.

“I have had the opportunity to attend this luncheon several times, but this year is different for me,” said Ballesteros. “While I suspect that is partly because I am giving the speech rather than judging it – it is also because of the chamber’s current direction for growth and the new tone and dialogue with our council and with our local businesses. I think this dialogue is vital.”

Ballesteros said he and recently appointed chamber Executive Director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold have met with most of the council members and have had positive discussions. 

“Our primary goal was to hear from everyone,” said Ballesteros. “It was reassuring to know our council members are in unison for the most part. They want to know how our businesses are doing and what would help them overcome challenges.

“They wanted to know what residents need, as well. These are ongoing discussions and we look forward to working with them.”

Chamber hosts Paula

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Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold

Besides representing business, the chamber also supports special event such as the luncheon, a golf tournament in July, Hospitality Night and a revamped Taste of Laguna.

The chamber has also hired an urban economist to assess the future of the downtown, funded by an allocation of $25,000 from the city. Data will be provided in upcoming months. 

Hornbuckle-Arnold thanked luncheon sponsors Cox Communications and Julie Laughton Design Build. 

Once folks were seated, she mostly stood at the back of the room, keeping a vigilant eye on the proceedings, prepared to step in if necessary,

It wasn’t.

Chamber hosts Lisa and Mo

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Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Mo Honarkar

Folks in the audience included Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and her Community Relations Advisor Sergio Prince; Laguna Beach County Water District General Manager Renae Hinchey, and board members Debbie Neev and Cheryl Kinsman; Disaster/Emergency Preparedness Committee Chair Matt Lawson and his wife, Mary; Margaret Warder; Laguna Beach Company CEO Mo Honarkar and daughter Hasty, and Chamber Board members.

But wait – there’s more. You will find advance notice of all the fun and interesting stuff for visitors or residents to do in Laguna by reading Contributions are welcomed.

See below for more photos from Mary Hurlbut

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