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Laguna Beach


Supervisor Lisa Bartlett appointed to NACo Board of Directors

On July 20, National Association of Counties (NACo) President Gary Moore appointed Orange County, California Supervisor Lisa Bartlett as an at-large member of the NACo Board of Directors. 

“I am truly blessed and deeply honored to have been appointed by President Moore to serve on the NACo Board,” said Bartlett. “This is a critical time for the health and economic well-being of Orange County, and having a voice at the table, at both the State and National level, is vital to our future health and prosperity,” she said. “I look forward to representing Orange County and am grateful for the opportunity,” said Bartlett. 

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett appointed

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Supervisor Lisa Bartlett

Supervisor Bartlett has been an active member of the NACo since 2016 and currently serves as a member of the Large Urban Caucus (LUCC) Steering Committee. The one-year appointment will position her to help steer the overall direction of the association in concert with its Executive Committee. 

“NACo and counties across the country will be well-served by Supervisor Bartlett’s experience and dedication to public service,” said NACo President Gary Moore, judge-executive of Boone County, Ky. “She brings bold leadership to the Board of Directors as counties face unprecedented challenges and opportunities.” 

NACo’s Annual Business Meeting was held virtually on July 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting included the election of NACo officers and other association business. Over 1,000 county leaders and partners from across the country participated.


City of Laguna Beach appoints Artist-in-Residence Pamela Madsen

The City of Laguna Beach Arts Commission has appointed composer, performer, theorist, university professor, and curator of new music Pamela Madsen as its new Artist-in-Residence. 

Pamela has been a resident of Laguna Beach for more than 20 years and holds a PhD in Music Composition from the University of California, San Diego. The Artist-in-Residence program replaces the Literary Laureate program. The program focuses on promoting and presenting performing arts for Laguna Beach’s vibrant creative scene and activating public spaces within the city. 

City of Madsen

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Pamela Madsen is the City of Laguna Beach’s new Artist-in-Residence 

Over the course of the one-year appointment, Pamela will conduct four performance events at local sites including the Main Beach Cobblestones, Heisler Park, and the Village Entrance.

Pamela said, “I am honored and thrilled to be the Artist-in-Residence for the City of Laguna Beach. As a composer, performer, and curator I welcome this opportunity to create and premiere my new work, Laguna Beach Suite - From the Canyons to the Sea, [which] celebrates the community and connects it to the world. I seek to bring the historic legacy of Laguna to life through research, creation, composition, and performance of new works and I look forward to celebrating the inspirations that Laguna Beach has given me.”

Arts Commissioner Suzi Chauvel said, “We are so fortunate to have Pamela Madsen as our Artist-in-Residence for Laguna Beach. Her exciting and innovative art performances and processes are perfect for this particular time in history.”

Arts Commission Vice-Chair Pat Kollenda added, “We can’t wait for her fabulous Laguna Beach Suite.”

The Artist-in-Residence program is funded by the lodging establishments and the City of Laguna Beach.

For more information, contact Mike McGregor, Arts Program Coordinator, at (949) 497-0722 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


City Council updated on strategies for economic recovery and business development

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on July 14 received a report on the implementation of programs designed to help the city and business community recover from the financial devastation of COVID-19.

About one-third of the programs have been completed, according to the update presented by Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, Senior Administrative Analyst Jeremy Frimond, and Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl.

“On May 12, the Economic Recovery and Business Development Working Group received City Council direction on implementing a range of strategies to support local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dupuis.

The working group, composed of Councilwoman Sue Kempf, and participants from the Sawdust Festival, the Festival of Arts, the Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Laguna Beach, developed the strategies highlighted Tuesday.

Six projects have been completed, according to Dupuis, et al. Eight more projects are in progress and one is scheduled.

City Council Promenade

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Business Regulatory Relief Package – one of six completed projects – including the Promenade

Completed projects: 

--Small business assistance webpage 

--Urgency ordinance enacted for eviction and rent deferment 

--Deferment of collection of bed taxes and assistance to hotels processing renovation requests 

--Return to Work program, including 10 temporary use permits for outdoor dining and displays and support of legislation that promotes funding safe returns to work 

--Business Regulatory Relief Package, including the Promenade on Forest 

--Artist funding 

In the pipeline: 

--Repositioning of the Community Development Department to emphasize its economic development mission and improving its website 

--Chamber of Commerce and Visit Laguna Beach campaigns to promote local businesses and the installation of two banners promoting the HIP District 

--Target business recruitment 

--Parklets, scheduled to be discussed at tonight’s (July 21) council meeting

Alessandro Pirozzi, who had the first parklet in town in front of his restaurant on Forest Avenue, is a big supporter of the concept, which he said on Tuesday helps restaurants and surrounding businesses, although some neighboring stores objected. The parklets provide a place for outdoor dining, especially desirable when indoor dining is curtailed.

City Council Pirozzi

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Alessandro Pirozzi in front of Alessa’s parklet on the Promenade

“We need to look for opportunities to maximize outdoor space,” said Mayor Bob Whalen.

Potential sites are in front of Hennessey’s, Dizz’s As Is, Salerno’s, also owned by Pirozzi, and Harley. As conceived, parklets would take up two parking spaces, none on the highway.

Artists and artistic programs play a big role in Laguna’s economy, and they have been as adversely affected by COVID-19, as have brick and mortar businesses. No festivals. Closed galleries.

Grants have helped, particularly the $100,000 donation by the late Wayne Peterson through the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, according to Poeschl.

Suggestions to improve the situation including using empty storefronts for programming, development of off-season markets, and a marketing campaign promoting Laguna as an art city will play a role in the city’s economic recovery.


City Council updated on strategies for economic recovery and business development

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday received a report on the implementation of programs designed to help the city and business community recover from the financial devastation of COVID-19.

About one-third of the programs have been completed, according to the update presented by Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, Senior Administrative Analyst Jeremy Frimond, and Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl.

“On May 12, the Economic Recovery and Business Development Working Group received City Council direction on implementing a range of strategies to support local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dupuis.

The working group, composed of Councilwoman Sue Kempf, and participants from the Sawdust Festival, the Festival of Arts, the Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Laguna Beach, developed the strategies highlighted Tuesday.

Six projects have been completed, according to Dupuis, et al. Eight more projects are in progress and one is scheduled.

City Council Promenade

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Business Regulatory Relief Package – one of six completed projects – including the Promenade

Completed projects: 

--Small business assistance webpage 

--Urgency ordinance enacted for eviction and rent deferment 

--Deferment of collection of bed taxes and assistance to hotels processing renovation requests 

--Return to Work program, including 10 temporary use permits for outdoor dining and displays and support of legislation that promotes funding safe returns to work 

--Business Regulatory Relief Package, including the Promenade on Forest 

--Artist funding 

In the pipeline: 

--Repositioning of the Community Development Department to emphasize its economic development mission and improving its website 

--Chamber of Commerce and Visit Laguna Beach campaigns to promote local businesses and the installation of two banners promoting the HIP District 

--Target business recruitment 

--Parklets, scheduled to be discussed at the July 21 council meeting

Alessandro Pirozzi, who had the first parklet in town in front of his restaurant on Forest Avenue, is a big supporter of the concept, which he said on Tuesday helps restaurants and surrounding businesses, although some neighboring stores objected. The parklets provide a place for outdoor dining, especially desirable when indoor dining is curtailed.

City Council Pirozzi

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Alessandro Pirozzi in front of Alessa’s parklet on the Promenade

“We need to look for opportunities to maximize outdoor space,” said Mayor Bob Whalen.

Potential sites are in front of Hennessey’s, Dizz’s As Is, Salerno’s, also owned by Pirozzi, and Harley. As conceived, parklets would take up two parking spaces, none on the highway.

Artists and artistic programs play a big role in Laguna’s economy, and they have been as adversely affected by COVID-19 as have brick and mortar businesses. No festivals. Closed galleries.

Grants have helped, particularly the $100,000 donation by the late Wayne Peterson through the Laguna Beach Community Foundation, according to Poeschl.

Suggestions to improve the situation including using empty storefronts for programming, development of off-season markets, and a marketing campaign promoting Laguna as an art city will play a role in the city’s economic recovery.


Revised Preservation Ordinance introduced, passed to second reading for adoption

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday moved a revision of the controversial revised Preservation Ordnance closer to adoption.

Despite last-minute changes that morning, the council voted to pass the ordinance to a second reading, as required for adoption. As passed, the ordinance mandates a return to a “voluntary” preservation program, meaning property owner consent is required for a structure to be considered as a local historical resource, the most divisive element of the long discourse on the revision. 

“The ordinance was voluntary when it was put into effect, and voluntary when it was put into the General Plan,” said Mayor Bob Whalen. ”But it evolved into an involuntary inventory.”

The vote was 4-1, Councilwoman Toni Iseman the lone opponent. 

“There were substantial errors that made this [ordinance] unpopular,” said Iseman. “Some horror stories were accurate, but there were a lot of success stories.”

Benefits, Iseman said, should be emphasized. Among them: properties on the city’s Historical Register may apply for a state Mills Act contract, which may substantially reduce property taxes, freeing up money for maintenance on older homes.   

Iseman recommended delaying the vote on the proposed revisions for further study to try to reach a compromise between those who favored shucking the involuntary inclusion and those who fear voluntary-only participation will lead to the mass destruction of structures that enhance Laguna’s ambiance and illustrate its history.

Councilman Peter Blake opposed any delay.   

“All I can see are benefits for someone who wants to restore a house,” said Blake. “If they scrape [demolish], they would have to rebuild to the 2020 code –no one wants to do that. We’ve got the votes. Get it done. Anyone who doesn’t like it: move.”

Mayor Pro Tm Steve Dicterow opined that the fear of losing much of what makes Laguna Beach a place where people want to live and to visit is real. 

“They want to preserve the look and feel of Laguna – but that is not historic,” said Dicterow. 

Revised Preservation Cypress

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Historic charmer on Flora St

Whalen said that one of the two main objectives of the hearing was to establish voluntary participation by owners in the preservation of resources, a sticking point in all of the more-than-30, often raucous meetings held on the proposed revisions to the ordinance since 2015.

That includes eliminating references to the 1981 Inventory, which contained some 850 properties, with or without the owner’s consent or even knowledge. 

Staff reported that the inventory, if not invalided, at least no longer meets the city’s needs since it has not been updated for five years. 

Properties that were indentified on the inventory as eligible for the local register will no longer be flagged under the revised ordinance during the plan check process or on the Real Property Report. 

However, the city will maintain a list of properties identified as potentially eligible for the National Register and staff will be required to evaluate the properties as part of a development application. If an assessment is required by the city, the city pays, staff said. 

Whalen’s second objective was changing the definition of historic resources. 

The definition in the revised ordinance:

--Historic resource means a property or structure that is listed on the city’s register

--Is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources

--Has been determined to be eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources by the State Historical Resources Commission 

--Is listed on the National Register of Historical Places

--Has been officially determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historical Places by the National Park Service or the city is mandated by law to treat as a historical resource based on substantial evidence in light of the whole record

According to the staff report, the definition is consistent with state law and follows the mandates of the California Environmental Quality Act (CE QA) by recognizing that there will be situations in which a structure may be considered “eligible” for the California Register of Historic Places and must, therefore, be considered a historic resource.

Revised Preservation oldest

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

One of the oldest houses in Laguna

“If the state law mandates we treat [a structure] as historic, that is how we have to treat it,” said Whalen. 

The council also approved a negative declaration, which stated that the ordinance would not have a negative effect on the environment and did not require an environmental impact report. 

Fifty letters and more than 200 emails were sent to the council related to the ordinance and the “negative dec,” City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker said. 

The council also received 35 phone calls during the hearing. Callers were fairly evenly divided between support and opposition. 

Support for the ordinance began with a 10-minute presentation by Larry Nokes.

“This is a voluntary ordinance – finally,” he said. “It was always intended to be.”

Nokes said homeowners in Laguna, with no desire to have their homes designated as historical or to reap any of the benefits, have been subjected to time-consuming and costly processes. 

Other supporters included the Laguna Board of Realtors, Dave Cortez, owner of a 1930 restored home, and architect Marshall Ininns. 

“I don’t understand the fear that old houses will be done away with,” said Ininns. “I have 10 projects and only one owner is not agreeing to the historical designation.” 

Opponents included Catherine Jurka, who gave a 10-minute presentation on behalf of the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition. 

“Don’t betray our past by bulldozing our future,” Jurka said in conclusion. 

She had previously submitted a 17-page single-spaced letter to the council. 

“The proposed amendment ordinance, the Historic Resources Element, and other documents would significantly impact – indeed we believe would irreparably damage – the city’s unique aesthetic and historic character,” Jurka wrote.

She also opposed the negative dec on the basis that the ordinance would have a significant environmental impact. 

Opponents also included former Planning Commissioner Becky Jones, who wrote that the negative declaration cannot be justified.

“The proposed ordinance eliminates protections from previously protected historic structures [C and K rated] and will create significant cumulative impact on the cultural and aesthetic ambiance of our commercial and residential areas,” stated Jones.

Also opposed to the revised ordinance: Former Mayor Ann Christoph, Dr. Gary Jenkins, Village Laguna, and Preserve Orange County, a citizen’s group that promotes preservation of the county’s architectural and cultural heritage.

The second reading of the ordinance is scheduled to come back to the council no later than August 11.


City announces cancellation of Laguna Beach Junior Lifeguard program

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of the public, staff, and Junior Lifeguard participants, the City of Laguna Beach is canceling the second and final session of the 2020 Junior Lifeguard Program that was planned to start in mid-July. The first session was already canceled.

The City continues to closely monitor the State’s progress toward moving into the next stage of the Pandemic Resilience Roadmap. As the next stage of reopening is not expected to happen until after the planned start of the final Junior Lifeguard session, and due to the lead time required to conduct swim tryouts and prepare for the session, the City is canceling the entire Junior Lifeguard Summer 2020 program. This is consistent with actions by other Orange County and Southern California agencies concerning their 2020 Junior Lifeguard programs. 

The City looks forward to offering the Junior Lifeguard program next summer. For further questions, contact Kai Bond, Marine Safety Captain, at (949) 494-6571 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Historic Preservation Ordinance set for Tuesday’s council agenda

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The introduction of the long-debated Historic Preservation Ordinance went from a tentative hearing to a more certain spot on Tuesday’s (July 14) agenda at the June 30 City Council meeting.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman’s request to delay the hearing until September as asked by Village Laguna was discussed and rejected by the council.

Village Laguna Board Member Anne Caenn asked the council to postpone the introduction and possible adoption of the ordinance until council meetings are held in public. 

Caenn said the council had made a promise to residents not to hear large, controversial items until the city resumed in-person meetings. However, City Manager John Pietig had announced at previous meetings that the pledge to residents was made under the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic would not still be raging in July, but some city business should no longer be delayed.

Few, if any, ordinances have caused as much uproar as the proposed revisions to the preservation ordinance. Proponents and opponents packed the City Council Chambers for the hearings, very few adhering to the requests from the dais to simply raise hands in agreement with speakers and to restrain from cheers or catcalls. 

Historic Preservation house

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Historic house on Ocean Way and Diamond

The original ordinance was adopted in 1989, much of it based on the 1981 Historic Resource Document, which listed structures deemed to have historical value due to architectural merit, ambiance, age, inhabitants, or activity conducted there. The ordinance was determined to be out of date in 2013.

More than 30 meetings, including hearings by the Heritage Committee, Design Review Board, Planning Commission, City Council, and the Historic Preservation Task Force have been held since then.

Meetings were described by many as the most disruptive and raucous ever held in the City Council Chambers, as battles raged over inclusion as a historical resource without the owners’ request or permission and the basis on which homes were rated. 

“We are putting things on the agendas that can wait, when it is impossible for a member of the public to be there in person,” said Iseman. “There are people who find it difficult to Zoom. After every meeting, I get phone calls from people who are upset because they were on hold and never got to speak.”

Councilwoman Sue Kempf opined at the June 30 meeting it was because so many people were interested in the ordinance that the council should move forward on it.

The meeting agenda including the full text of the ordinance is available at the link here. 

The public may participate in the meeting via Zoom by calling (669) 900-900-9128 (the Webinar ID is 92925158960#) or clicking here.

The meeting may also be viewed live on Cox cable channel 852 and online on the City of Laguna Beach website at www.lagunabeachcity.net/agendas

The public may submit comments 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.


City renews goat contract

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The use of goats to munch a fire break around the city first authorized by former City Manager Ken Frank made him the butt of many jokes and drew the ire of some environmentalists.

Nowadays the Fire Department gets phone calls asking for information on where and how to get started with the program, according to Fire Chief Mike Garcia. The grazing program is so highly regarded, it survived the budget cutbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.     

“The city needs the service,” said Garcia. 

City Manager John Pietig was authorized to renew the contract with Indacochea Ranch, beginning July 1 – the start of the new fiscal year – and running through June 30, 2023.

The contract stipulates a monthly payment of $10,417 for one herd of 300 to 500 goats and one herder, the same as the last 10 years. A second herd and herder may be added for $7,000 a month in year one and $8,000 for years two and three. A third herd and herder will cost $6,000 a month for the first year, $7,000 for the second year, and $8,000 for the third year.

City renews goats

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Goats have been helping keep Laguna firesafe since the 90s

Indacochea Ranch has developed an excellent working relationship with the city in the 20 years they have been doing business, according to the staff report. The ranch has worked with staff when additional goats were needed to deal with above-average fuel loading and charging only a nominal fee when goats are not in the city. Under the terms of the contract, the city will pay $400 a month if the Fire Department requests all herds be removed, as they were a few years ago due to lack of vegetation for them to eat. 

The city manages nine separate fuel modification zones entirely with goat grazing and two with a combination of goats and hand crews. Goat grazing is also proposed for part of the fuel modifications program for the new zones in Laguna Canyon and Canyon Acres. The rate for a herd of 100 goats and one herder is proposed to be $10,000 for the new zones for the first contract year. 

All costs associated with maintaining the herds and herders are the responsibility of the ranch.


Council delays hearing on revised Coast Inn project

By BARBARA DIAMOND

The City Council on Tuesday decided to allow its staff more time to analyze last-minute revisions to the proposed restoration and remodel of the Coast Inn.

Given the choices of hearing the project despite the staff’s qualms, returning it to the Planning Commission, or continuing Tuesday’s hearing until July 28, the council concluded a 75-minute hearing on the options by voting 4-1 for the delay. 

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, the lone vote against the continuation, wanted the project returned to the commission, which was adamantly opposed by property owner Chris Dornin in a telephone call to the council. 

“We have made drastic reductions [in the project] to make it approvable,” said Dornin. “It is frustrating to be in this position.”

Project architect Marshall Ininns finds the delays exasperating and incomprehensible. 

“I can’t believe the opposition,” said Ininns on Thursday. “This building has been neglected for 50 years. Our plan is to restore it to attract guests to the city that will spend money in Laguna’s restaurants and stores.”

Mayor Bob Whalen directed staff to prepare a report on the project to be made available to the public on July 17, 10 days prior to the continued hearing. 

“Staff and the applicant need to sit down and come to terms,” said Whalen. 

Councilman Peter Blake would just as soon have heard the project on Tuesday. 

“We know the project will be appealed to the [California] Coastal Commission,” said Blake. “It is our responsibility to hear it and send it on its way to the appeals.”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow was given pause by the admonitions from City Attorney Philip Kohn, who advised the council not to proceed with Tuesday’s hearing. 

“I would prefer to hear it tonight, but I hear hesitation and concern in Phil’s voice,” said Dicterow. 

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said the planning commission could have done a good job, but she felt it would prolong the process an unacceptable amount of time. 

Seven of the 12 members of the public who called in comments also favored the project going back to the commission.

Council delays building

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Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Proposed rendering of the Coast Inn

As submitted prior to the last-minute changes, the project includes the historic rehabilitation of the building to reflect the original Spanish Colonial Revival style as shown on a 1930s hotel postcard. The exterior of the building would be plastered and historic turrets, architectural features, deck railings, roof details, and signage would be reconstructed.

The proposal also includes 24 remodeled hotel rooms and an existing restaurant. Rooftop signs and a new 3,707-square-foot deck exceed Laguna’s height restriction.

Deck occupancy is limited to 101: five staff members and 96 guests from the hotel’s 24 rooms, but Dornin said Tuesday it was not feasible to check the identification of everyone on the roof, an issue for the staff. 

Staff opined in its report that the project is neither a major remodel nor deficient in parking spaces.

Under the current staff interpretation, demolition of 50 percent of the exterior walls in linear feet or the combined measurement of roof, walls, and foundation constitutes a major remodel. The application calculates the demolition or reinforcement of walls to be 40.9 percent and 44 percent of the combined measurement. 

Grandfathered parking of 98 spaces meets the requirement with no request for additional credits, according to the staff report.

Even without this week’s changes, the project that would have been considered on Tuesday differs markedly from the one first reviewed by the commission and later presented to the council in 2018. That version included the liquor store across the street, designed by the late Chris Abel in the mid-1950s, and two structures behind it.

“We scaled back the project after the council meeting,” said Dornin.    

Prior to the changes submitted Monday and Tuesday, staff opined the project would not result in any environmental impacts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act and variance findings could be made. 

Staff now believes a new analysis is needed on issues that could affect the CEQA ruling, according to Director of Community Development Marc Wiener.


Virus-plagued 2021 budget approved with minor changes

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Faced with revenue scenarios described as bad and worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council on Tuesday accepted, with only minor changes, the budget recommended by City Manager John Pietig for fiscal year 2021.

The proposed budget was based on the better of the two scenarios, estimating revenue of $63.4 million for the General Fund – some $9.4 million less than the pre-pandemic projection, but better than almost $13 million in the worst case. The most significant loss in revenue was the anticipated $11 million reduction in the transient occupancy tax, the Business Improvement District assessment and sales tax, $7.1 million of it earmarked for the General Fund. Reduced consumer spending is also significantly lower, both reductions attributed to the impact of the virus on the travel and tourist industry, and locals observing the stay-at-home advisory. 

“I haven’t seen revenue losses like this in all my time with the city,” said Administrative Services Director Gavin Curran, who presented the review of the proposed budget to the council and the public. “We started working in April on the bad and worse scenarios. Our goal was to limit the impact on core services and reserves in the 2021 budget and the following fiscal year.”

The predicted revenue losses are worse than those the city suffered in the most recent recession, Curran said. 

On the brighter side, property taxes, which represent 56 percent of the General Fund, are not expected to be materially affected. Contributions to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) are not expected to be affected by COVID-19 until fiscal year 2022-23, according to staff. 

The proposed budget does not recommend any employee layoffs or furloughs of employees other than the reductions in recreation and transit services already approved by council due to the virus. Full-time staffing will decrease by six positions, accomplished by consolidation of the department and the elimination of vacated positions. 

Council was also asked to approve an agreement with the Municipal Employees’ Association and Management personnel and Pietig that forgoes 2.5 percent salary increases scheduled to take effect July 1. Pietig expressed appreciation to the associations for the agreement, as well as to the staff that put together the proposed budget in two months, a task that normally takes nine months.

Slashes were made to the budgets in every city department. Proposed reductions in expenditures included cuts in salaries and benefits, contract services, overtime, maintenance, equipment replacement, frequency of downtown and beach cleanups, and kelp removal, and the deferment or cancellation of capital improvements among others. 

Proposed reductions covered an estimated $7 million of the $9.7 million anticipated loss in General Fund revenue. 

The reduction in the estimated Measure LL revenue led to a recommendation to eliminate the $1 million transfer to the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Fund in the 2021 fiscal year, which included funding for the Defensible Inspector position. Matt Lawson, chair of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee, and Sonny Myers, director of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), voiced opposition to both cuts. 

Pietig said the budget contains a contingency fund, in the event of wildfires, protests, and even, he joked, an invasion of locusts.

In addition to the cuts, the proposed budget dips into the 20 percent of the General Fund reserved by the council. The proposed $1.5 million reduction in the reserve fund preserves $17 million, well above the mandated 10 percent. 

Mayor Bob Whalen said the reserve fund is in good shape at 17 percent. 

The council also debated proposed expenditures carried over from an April meeting: $500,000 reserved for the South Laguna Community Garden Park, $200,000 for a Defensible Inspector position in the Fire Department that staff recommended cutting, $25,000 for the Urban Forest Management Plan, $730,000 for the renovation of the Digester, and $190,000 for the removal of sludge from the Digester. 

Feedback from the council to the staff as recommended by Whalen and seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, deferred the urban forest plan, and kept the funding for the Digester and for the garden, which was supported by phone calls from former Mayor Ann Christoph and businessman Ruben Flores. Whalen said the council had committed to funding the South Laguna Community Garden Park up to June 30, 2021, but nothing beyond that.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said she wouldn’t have kept any of them even as a line item in the COVID-19 economy.

“We don’t know what will happen next,” said Kempf. 

Pietig said he will be monitoring the budget every month and will produce a mid-year budget review in December or January. 

Councilman Peter Blake said he would never vote money for the garden but supported funding the Digester, which is included in a study of a parking structure recently approved by the council. 

The council also asked staff to look into the janitorial costs for cleaning, sweeping, and trash collection in the downtown streets throughout summer and to look into the cost of a contract defensible inspector, rather than a full-time position.

The complete text of the proposed budget is available for review on the city’s website at www.lagunabeachcity.net. 

Changes requested by the council at Tuesday’s meeting will be incorporated into the proposed budget to be voted on at the June 30 council meeting. Recommendations for Community Assistance and Cultural Arts grants are scheduled to be presented and adopted at the meeting.

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