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City of Laguna Beach issues order requiring all Essential Workers to wear face coverings

On Thursday, April 9, Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig issued an Emergency Order requiring all Essential Workers providing non-medical essential services to wear face coverings while at work, adding a new layer of protection for the City of Laguna Beach in the fight against COVID-19.

The City Manager’s Emergency Order took effect on Friday, April 10 at 12 a.m., and states that all employers of non-medical essential businesses require their workers to wear cloth face coverings that shield their noses and mouths while at work. This includes Essential Workers at all grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement stores, gas station convenience stores, restaurants providing take-out or delivery services, banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. Face coverings, such as scarves (dense fabric, without holes), bandanas, neck gaiter, or other fabric face coverings are allowed. All persons, including Essential Workers, are discouraged from using medical grade personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, for non-medical reasons.

Essential businesses must also implement physical distancing measures for employees, customers, and maintain proper sanitation at all times or the facility shall be closed.

This order follows guidance recently issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends all persons wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. On April 8, the Orange County Public Health Officer also issued a recommendation encouraging Essential Workers to wear non-medical grade masks or face coverings while at work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We are requiring all Essential Workers in Laguna Beach wear a face covering to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Pietig. “This is an additional level of protection for both our residents and our Essential Workers still on the frontlines providing food and critical services to our community.” 

A full copy of the City Manager’s Emergency Order can be found here.


Council eases deadlines complicated by COVID-19

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council at its April 7 meeting extended the committee and commission members’ terms that were due to expire on June 30. 

Interviews and appointments of members were scheduled to be held on May 12. However, due to COVID-19, the terms have been extended through the end of January 2021.

Affected by the extension: 

--Planning Commissioners Anne Johnson, Jorg Dubin, and sitting Chair Ken Sadler

--Arts Commissioners Suzi Chauvel, Donna Olsen Ballard, Karen Wood, and alternate Mike Stice

--Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee members Robert Elster, Matt Lawson, and Tim Templeton

--Housing and Human Services Committee members Marisa Peasley and sitting Chair Gail Duncan

--South Laguna Water and Sewer Advisory Committee members Calvin Nelson, John Thomas, alternate Mel Harwell, and sitting Chair Eric Jessen 

The date of the interviews for reappointment or new applicants will be determined after the council’s 2021 calendar is established. 

“My guess is the first week in January,” said City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker.       

The council also approved an uncodified urgency ordinance extending deadlines in the municipal code for zoning entitlements and permits.

Time limits in the code include design review, variances, and conditional use and coastal development permits and set expiration dates if permits are not implemented or used in a timely fashion. 

The council determined that due to the personal financial challenges and economic uncertainties related to COVID-19, the time limits of such permits were not feasible.

Staff opined that the expiration of the permits and entailments would create severe burdens and hardships for the permit holder and as such, recommended the adoption of the urgency ordinance. The ordinance allows zoning permits that have already been approved and are still valid to be extended for the duration of the Proclamation of the Existence of a Local Emergency and for 60 days after the termination of the proclamation, unless the council takes further action.

Urgency ordinances do not require a second reading to take effect, according to Chel-Walker.


City of Laguna Beach issues order requiring all Essential Workers to wear face coverings

Yesterday, April 9, Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig issued an Emergency Order requiring all Essential Workers providing non-medical essential services to wear face coverings while at work, adding a new layer of protection for the City of Laguna Beach in the fight against COVID-19.

The City Manager’s Emergency Order took effect on Friday, April 10 at 12 a.m., and states that all employers of non-medical essential businesses require their workers to wear cloth face coverings that shield their noses and mouths while at work. This includes Essential Workers at all grocery stores, pharmacies, home improvement stores, gas station convenience stores, restaurants providing take-out or delivery services, banks, savings and loans, and credit unions. Face coverings, such as scarves (dense fabric, without holes), bandanas, neck gaiter, or other fabric face coverings are allowed. All persons, including Essential Workers, are discouraged from using medical grade personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, for non-medical reasons.

Essential businesses must also implement physical distancing measures for employees, customers, and maintain proper sanitation at all times or the facility shall be closed.

This order follows guidance recently issued by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends all persons wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. On April 8, the Orange County Public Health Officer also issued a recommendation encouraging Essential Workers to wear non-medical grade masks or face coverings while at work to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We are requiring all Essential Workers in Laguna Beach wear a face covering to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Pietig. “This is an additional level of protection for both our residents and our Essential Workers still on the frontlines providing food and critical services to our community.” 

A full copy of the City Manager’s Emergency Order can be found here.


Council chops spending to compensate for financial losses due to COVID-19

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday approved most of the budget cuts recommended by City Manager John Pietig to prevent cessation of essential services during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cuts totaled about $10 million. Deferrals and reductions totaled $1.6 million. 

“We need to batten down the hatches,” said Councilwoman Sue Kempf. “I think we are in for a helluva time.”

She said council should approve whatever is needed to run the city. “Everything else is not important.”

The goal of the cuts is to keep the city’s 10 percent General Plan Reserve Fund intact and to preserve the Disaster Fund, said Finance Director Gavin Curran.

“We don’t know when the next disaster will happen,” said Pietig. “Mutual aid may not be available from surrounding communities that might be in the same situation.”

Mayor Bob Whalen announced earlier in the meeting that the relief fund started by some folks after the 1993 fire has been revived as the Laguna Beach COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“The Laguna Beach Community Foundation is the vehicle for donations, focusing on workers,” said Whalen. 

Fourteen residents called in to comment on the proposed cuts, three of them successful in urging the council to defer the cut of the $500,000 reserved funding for the South Laguna Community Garden. 

“The garden had city support and it took a lot of time to get financial support,” said former Mayor Ann Chrisoph. “Don’t take it off the books.”

Village Laguna President Johanna Felder called in to express the groups’ opposition to some of the proposed cuts, particularly to the garden and digester, also criticizing such items being discussed at a meeting in which residents cannot attend in person.

“I would encourage the city to be careful about the difference between budget cuts and budget deferrals,” said John Thomas. “Many items could simply be rolled over.”

Public safety was addressed by Tom Gibbs, particularly cuts that affected the fire department. 

Pietig said he had consulted with the heads of all departments before making the recommended cuts.

Among the cuts in the General Fund approved to compensate for an expected $6 million loss in its revenue:

--$2,500,000 targeted savings in city salaries and operations

--$292,000 for Wayfaring signage 

--$600,000 Open Space Fund transferred back to the General Fund

--$250,000 for investment gains and losses, no longer needed

--$778,000 transfer to the Parking Fund to repay Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety

The expected Measure LL revenue loss is $1,200,000. Proposed cuts total $1,300,000, including $200,000 for the unfilled position of Fire Inspector, which was deferred.

Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee Chair Matt Lawson urged the council to no avail to restore $800,000 of the cuts related to wildfire protection.

The Capital Improvement Fund was reduced by $2,300,000, the same amount the fund is expected to lose in revenue. 

City officials hope to negotiate a deal with Caltrans to fund the last $2 million the city owes on the Coast Highway Sidewalk Improvement Project. 

The Parking Fund expenditures were reduced by $2,405,000, but the proposed $805,000 reduction for the preservation of the digester and removal of the sludge within was put on hold. 

“We’re buying time,” said Pietig.


Council enacts a temporary moratorium on evictions of renters impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an urgency ordinance that curtails the eviction of tenants who get behind on their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary moratorium applies to tenants of residential and commercial properties, including mobile home parks within the city limits.

“We reached out to our tenants about a month ago,” said Joe Hanauer, developer and owner of The Old Pottery Place. “We want to be sure we are not running afoul of the ordinance.”

Hanauer’s deal with his tenants depends on circumstances, he said. If they defer half of the rent and pay half, Hanauer said he would forego half. 

Nothing in the ordinance precludes or overrides a voluntary agreement between any landlord and tenant that provides greater relief or remedies to the tenant with respect to eviction proceedings, rent deferment, or rent repayment. Nor does it relieve the tenant from eventually repaying the landlord the back rent, within 120 days of the expiration on the Governor’s May 31 temporary order  halting evictions.

All bets are off if the tenants have the financial resources to pay the rent.

The ordinance includes language, proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, that protects landlords, who may be dependent on rental income. 

“You could have a CEO who has decided to reduce his compensation to zero dollars, but has $50 million in the bank,” said Dicterow. 

Councilman Peter Blake, participating in the meeting from the Council Chambers, said there are federal loans specifically for paying bills that aren’t getting paid due to the impact of COVID-19. 

Landlords will be sent letters advising them of the ordinance.


Council to discuss financial impact of COVID-19 and possible solutions

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council tonight will continue coping with the financial repercussions of COVID-19 on the city’s revenue. 

City Manager John Pietig warned at the March 31 meeting that revenue was taking a nosedive and severe measures would have to be taken. 

“We are going to have to reduce projects, programs – maybe some services,” he said. 

 Pietig advised the council that employees’ hours would be cut, and they have been, and that at some point, staff might have to be furloughed. He also informed the council that local hotels had requested a deferment of transient occupancy tax, better known as bed or hotel tax. 

“Of course, it would be challenging to defer revenue payments at a time when we are making reductions, but we do have some reserves that we have accumulated over the years, so we can maintain the continuity of essential services during these types of situations,” said Pietig. 

Former City Manager Ken Frank convinced the council to create a “revenue smoothing fund” when he anticipated the financial crisis in the 1980s. Now, the city has the Disaster Contingency Fund and preserves a minimum 10 percent reserve over the city’s general fund.

The city has several funds, but the General Fund is spent at the discretion of the council for public safety, recreation programs, city planning, and a goodly portion of public works.

Seventy-five percent of the general fund comes from property, bed, and sales taxes.

When asked by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow if there was a chance that the city’s share of property taxes would not be paid by the county, Pietig said that if property owners don’t pay their taxes, the city doesn’t get paid.

However, according to the staff report for tonight’s meeting on property taxes, which account for 55 percent of the General Fund, they are expected to be materially impacted by COVID-10 but might be delayed getting into the city coffers until later in the year.

According to the staff report, bed tax is expected to be $3.5 million lower than budget estimates due to COVID-19 impact, sales tax revenue is expected to be $1.3 million less than projected, and community development fees probably will be down by $1.2 million.

That is the reason staff will recommend tonight some reduction in the current fiscal year budget, with more to come in June when the 2020-2021 budget is reviewed. 

Staff is recommending the council approve modifications to the 2019-2020 adopted budget, including any changes made by the council. 

The council is also advised to consider the hotels’ request for deferred payment of bed taxes collected between June 1 and May 1, 2020 and to defer the payments until November 1 for hotels that typically average less than $150,000 in TOT and until September 1 for hotels that average more. 

Council meetings are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and can be watched on Cox Cable Channel 852 or on a computer at www.lagunabeachcity.net. Click on Agendas, Minutes, and Meetings and wait for the video sign to come on for the April 7 meeting.

Comments may be submitted on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (there is an interactive public communications form on the front page of the City’s website or an email or Word document will also be accepted).

Written comments may be provided up to 12 p.m. today, Tuesday, April 7 (the day of the meeting). Please note that while these comments will be provided to the City Council at 3 p.m. on April 7, the Council members may not have sufficient time to review them prior to the meeting.

If you would like to listen to and comment over the phone during designated public comment period, call (669) 900-9128, and wait for instructions to dial the Webinar ID, which is 490591918#.

Let the city know you want to comment on an item that is being discussed by pressing *9 on your phone. When you hear “your phone is unmuted,” you may proceed with you comment. The time for comments may be limited, so the city recommends you prepare your remarks accordingly.

You can also click on the link here from your computer or smart phone to participation in the meeting via Zoom.


City of Laguna Beach acts to close trailheads and beaches to slow the spread of COVID-19

From John Pietig, City Manager

The City of Laguna Beach continues to monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and take the appropriate actions to prevent its spread. Over the weekend, a number of people traveled to Laguna Beach to enjoy the nice weather and in the process crowded our beachfront parks and trails. This afternoon, the Laguna Beach City Council met in an emergency closed session to consider the actions necessary to protect the public and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Council voted to direct City staff to take the actions necessary to close trail access to the County wilderness parks tomorrow morning. The Council further directed staff to close City beaches on Monday night unless the County of Orange or the State of California does so before that time. Finally, the Council also directed the City staff to ask the County of Orange to close its beaches within the City or to grant the City permission to do so. The City beach closures would also include closure of the adjacent parks including Main Beach, Heisler, and Treasure Island Parks.

Governor Newsom’s stay at home order permits outdoor activity as long as a safe social distance of six feet is maintained from people who are not part of the same household. Although many of our citizens are self-regulating and practicing social distancing, the increased number of people gathering on Laguna Beach trails, beaches, and in adjacent parks creates more opportunities for community spread of the virus. These public parks contain benches, railings, and structures that are high-touch areas and could potentially be a source of spread of COVID-19. The Council determined that closing these areas is prudent to reduce the potential spread of the virus and protect the public.

These actions are in addition to the City Council’s prior actions to close basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts, along with all children’s playgrounds.

In order to enforce the closures, the Laguna Beach Police Department will increase monitoring. Citizens who do not comply with the closure orders will receive citations.

“The safety of the public is our utmost concern, and this decision was not taken lightly by the City Council. We were unanimous that these steps must be taken now in our City to slow the spread of COVID-19. I urge everyone to comply with our actions for the health of everyone in our community and beyond,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen. 

The situation is fluid and information provided in this statement is subject to change. For more information on COVID-19, please go to www.lagunabeachcity.net/coronavirus.


City monitoring social distancing guidelines – must be maintained at beaches, trailheads, parks, and restaurants

From John Pietig, City Manager

The City of Laguna Beach is closely monitoring the number of people enjoying Laguna Beach’s parks, beaches and trails this weekend. We share your concern about slowing the spread of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, and urge all residents and visitors to practice social distancing at all times – even outside.

Governor Newsom’s stay at home order permits outdoor activity. So long as you are maintaining a safe social distance of six feet from people who aren’t part of your household, it is ok to go outside for exercise, a walk, or fresh air. Although most people were cooperative on the City’s beaches Saturday, we are monitoring social distancing on beaches and will consider closures if distancing is not maintained.

City monitoring Scott

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Photo by Scott Brashier

The City will consider closures of beaches and parks if distancing is not maintained

The City is taking the following actions:

--Basketball and volleyball courts at Main Beach are closed and all other City basketball and volleyball courts are closed, effective immediately. All City playgrounds are closed.

--Trails and trailheads will remain open, but will be closely monitored in conjunction with OC Parks. If social distancing requirements are not met, additional actions including restricting or closing trails and trailheads will be considered.

--The Police Department is also monitoring businesses today and will enforce the closure of any non-essential businesses that remains open. The Police Department will also enforce social distancing guidelines at any essential businesses or restaurants allowed to be open.

The situation is fluid and information provided in this statement is subject to change. Thank you for patience as we all work together to figure out how to live and exist in this new environment. For more information on COVID-19, please go to www.lagunabeachcity.net/coronavirus.

City monitoring Scott

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City announces interviews and appointment of one member to the Design Review Board

Due to the recent resignation of Design Review Board Member Meg Monahan, the City Council is accepting applications to fill one seat on the Design Review Board.

Interviews and the appointment will be (tentatively) conducted on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at 5 p.m. by the City Council in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave. All applicants will be interviewed. Applicants may be contacted by City Council members prior to the interviews and appointments so please be prepared to make a brief statement about your desire to serve on a committee. Be sure to contact the City Clerk’s office the morning of March 31, 2020 to confirm that the interviews will proceed due to COVID-19.

Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on the Design Review Board should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or online from the City’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net and file by Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 5 p.m. The application on the City website is interactive and applicants are encouraged to fill in the application online. Questions may be directed to the City Clerk’s office at (949) 497-0705. Applications will not be accepted after the March 25, 2020 deadline. 

The position is for:

 (1) Two-year term on the Board of Adjustment/Design Review Board beginning April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2022. The Board of Adjustment/Design Review Board is a five-member body appointed by the City Council for the purpose of considering requests for variances from the zoning code. The members also sit as the City’s Design Review Board. Board members serve a two-year term and are compensated in the amount of $392 per month. The Board generally meets bi-monthly on the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

A substantial time commitment of approximately 10 hours per week is necessary to be a Board member. In addition to the bi-monthly meetings, Board members are expected to visit the sites and review the plans of projects prior to the meeting. The Board acts on an average of 14 items per meeting. It is desirable to have, or be able to acquire, certain skills or aptitudes, such as the ability to understand and conceptualize architectural drawings, and to visualize building mass and volumes based upon on-site staking plans. Experience in the building trades, architecture, historic preservation, landscaping, planning, and/or real estate would be an asset.

For more information, contact Lisette Chel-Walker CMC, City Clerk, at (949) 497-0309.


City cuts a deal with county on Laguna Canyon Road project

By BARBARA DIAMOND

A unanimous City Council voted on Tuesday to approve two proposals for the Caltrans/County project on Laguna Canyon Road.

City Manager John Pietig was authorized to execute agreements and documents related to the joint improvement project, subject to review by City Attorney Philip Kohn. There were no objections from the public on the proposals. 

“I think everyone expected the decision,” said Mary Fegraus, founding executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation and current chair of the Coastal Greenbelt Authority. 

The project is about one mile long, south of El Toro Road to State Route 73. Proposed improvements include undergrounding utilities, providing two continuous outbound lanes, paved shoulders, bicycle lanes, improved drainage, and landscaping. 

Tuesday’s hearing concerned only two components of the overall project. 

Approved action included amending the Open Space Agreement between the City and the County to remove portions of a City-owned parcel, contingent on the County incorporating seven City-owned parcels, purchased with Prop 12 money between 2008 and 2013, into the Open Space agreement. 

City cuts traffic

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Traffic backs up on Laguna Canyon Road

Contingent on the successful completion of the action, the City will grant to Caltrans portions of a City-owned property along the northbound shoulder of Highway 133 for highway, slope, and drainage purposes.

Pietig was also authorized to execute a donation or alternative of the agreement with the County to accept the County-owned parcel at El Toro Road and Anneliese School. The City will issue a revocable encroachment permit to the school to develop a driveway off El Toro Road into the school property. 

The current driveway does not meet Caltrans standards and has been identified by many as contributing to the traffic jams at the school’s entry and exit on Laguna Canyon Road.

However, the County parcel is enrolled in the Natural Communities Conservation Plan and required mitigation. 

The Council authorized the enrollment of 7.2-acre City-owned parcel above Canyon Acres Drive into the NCCP reserve list for mitigation. 

Pietig was instructed to notify the NCCP prior to its March 19 meeting. 

Insert City cuts council meeting

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Submitted photo

Tuesday’s Council meeting

Tuesday’s meeting was conducted by a conference call from the homes of Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, and Council member Toni Iseman. Councilwoman Sue Kempf participated by phone from Conference Room A in City Hall. Councilman Peter Blake, who is not in the over-65 at-risk group, conducted City business from the dais. Pietig, Kohn, and City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker were also in the Chamber. 

The public was advised to email comments or questions to Chel-Walker. She reported only two emails were received.

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